For me, the Democratic Republic of Congo in many ways was a shadowy country in the seemingly always tumultous central African region - known by its ca...moreFor me, the Democratic Republic of Congo in many ways was a shadowy country in the seemingly always tumultous central African region - known by its capital, Kinshasa, memorized in the sixth grade; the book, Heart of Darkness, mandatory high school reading; and its geographic closeness to more infamous neighbors, Rwanda, Uganda and Angola, and the related Hollywood cause de jour.
Jason Stearns tells the stories of the people of the DRC sketching broader views of the country, its systems, and cultural and historical context as well as intimate looks at victims and perpetrators. The stories are not about evil monsters in black and heroes in white hats. The "monsters" are human, frequently victims themselves, often with good intentions. Stearns does not hesitate to explicitly depict the violence but often the violence seems separated from the actual perpetrator. It is difficult to tell whether this is a deliberate style choice to emphasize the humanism of these people, a reflection of how he found them to be, a reflection of how they saw themselves or an actual separation between the everyday human and the monster.
Although some additional regional context using other central African countries would be interesting, for me the biggest unresolved questions are why, how, and now what. For the why and how, Stearns presents the events and decision-making as a product of the system in DRC. However, the root of that system and its perpetuatation seems largely unexamined. Given that there is likely no single answer and likely multiple conflicting and contrary ones, I think at some point it needs to move beyond "This is Africa." As to the now what, I think the book is clearest in calling for attention to the situation in the DRC and for careful consideration.(less)
I am reviewing this now because I don't think this book is ever going to get off the currently-reading shelf. In a time when terrorism is still a majo...moreI am reviewing this now because I don't think this book is ever going to get off the currently-reading shelf. In a time when terrorism is still a major issue, I was hoping to read a good overview into the history of terrorism. I picked up this book knowing nothing about the book (except the back blurb) or the author.
What a mistake! First, the author fails to define terrorism and suggests that the context and rationale of terrorists make no difference in doing so he denies the legitimate issues which give rise to terrorist acts as well as the culture in which they occurred. This becomes obvious in dismissing the legitimate issues surrounding Home Rule in Ireland and the birth of the IRA. Second, Burleigh delves into misogyny to describe Vera Figner and the Russian Nihilists. His shallow and biased reading of Populism is difficult to assess because he includes no footnotes or endnotes.
Between the condescending tone, lack of historical objectivity or even normal rational response to historic events, and cherry-picking of data, I couldn't read any further. Maybe at some point, he actually puts together some semblance of something interesting, but I doubt his style gets any better.(less)
I attempted to read this book in preparation for a trip to Israel figuring that if I can't find objective sources at least I know the particular autho...moreI attempted to read this book in preparation for a trip to Israel figuring that if I can't find objective sources at least I know the particular author's bias. I enjoyed the story-telling in the introduction of the book; however the discussion of nations and modern nationalism in the first chapter quickly showed me that bias would not be my biggest criticism. Sand focuses entirely on black-and-white thinking. He seemingly argues that the modern notion of the Nation (or nationalism or nation state) is the only notion that can be used ignoring similar concepts in history and the etymology of the word nation. Sand makes arbitrary separations about size, language, religion and culture. This dogmatic, illogical, and poorly argued premise is one example of the depth or lack thereof of arguments that Sand puts forth.
The basic premise of the book is that the current Jewish people making up the state of Israel are not the original inhabitants of that land and therefore have no legitimate claim on it. Unfortunately, Sand's explanations for European Jews who founded Zionism and Israel is conversion espousing the psuedohistory notion that Ashkenazi Jews, in particular, descend from Khazar converts (from the Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler.) Genetic studies have irrefutably shown that modern Jews have common descent similar to modern human populations in Israel (Palestinians) and Lebabnon with admixture from various other genetic backgrounds including Europeans. Genetic studies have also shown that Palestinians are closely related to Jewish groups with some admixture from Arab groups. Sands basic premise is unsupportable. Both Jews and Palestinians are likely descended from a common population.
His other arguments for a large conversion population seem weak although certainly the most historically interesting to me. I would have also been interested in historic intermarriage between Jews and European populations. However, neither the existence of converts nor intermarriage really supports his argument.
Sand also sets himself as a prosecuted minority going after The Truth, while the establisment maintains a diliberately false image of history, the Zionist movement and the state of Israel. This requires a major rewrite of the Zionist movement and view of Judaism as a collective identity as well as creating a homogenous and conscious modern Jewish establisment to rail against it. While I don't doubt that some Jews (and Christians) hold infalliable views of the bible as a historic document, I would argue that this is likely a fringe view in any academic dealing with history, archealogy and/or anthropology.
Utimately, I think that legitamate criticisms can be made about the state of Israel; however, Sand completely misses the conversation by producing and maintaining wrong conclusions with ahistoric arguments. Of course Sand responded to the newest genetic evidence with "It is a bitter irony to see the descendants of Holocaust survivors set out to find a biological Jewish identity." A statement that is both irrelevant and nonsensical as many of the recent studies have emphasized the common origin of Israeli and Levant populations; as it fails to actually address the fact that modern Jews descended from Middle Eastern ancestral populations; and as it does not address the actual problems in Israel.(less)
As a scientist and being familiar with both Baltimore and Johns Hopkins, this book was a fascinating read into the ethical dilemmas of medical resear...more As a scientist and being familiar with both Baltimore and Johns Hopkins, this book was a fascinating read into the ethical dilemmas of medical research as well as implications of historic race relations and how they continue to affect individuals, families and communities. The focal points of the book are the life and death of Henrietta Lacks and the struggle of the family, as viewed through the author, to come to terms with the decisions and actions of the medical community at Johns Hopkins and the wider scientific community. The read is engaging and heartbreaking. To those left wanting more on the scientific research using HeLa cells or the ethics of biomedical research, consider reading some of the peer-reviewed papers or books referenced in the notes section or at RebeccaSkloot.com.(less)