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Mr. P. W. Bishop (Manchester, United Kingdom)

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Islamic Imperialism: A History
Islamic Imperialism: A History
by Efraim Karsh
Edition: Paperback
Price: 21.63

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand, 10 July 2009
Efraim Karsh makes a compelling case that the internal history of the Islamic world is one of imperialist conflicts. Despite Muhammad's admonition, Muslim fought Muslim more often than he fought crusader, and the crusades were a parochial event. But the same case of unremitting conflict could be made for Christendom, and most other parts of the world for most of history. Any history of fourteen centuries in 250 pages is going to look like it is nothing but wars. One would need much more social history to give a corrected picture.

The difficulty is to know what we may learn for contemporary policy. This history of the Middle East is most easily applied in continuity to the conflict between Israel and its neighbours. Karsh argues that the surrounding nations merely wish to carve up the spoils both of a defeated Israel and of Palestine; that they in no wise recognise a Palestinian nation, nor have at heart the welfare of the Palestinian people.

Showing that the history of the House of Islam is largely one of internal conflict is quite different from obtaining insight as to Islam's current intentions towards the rest of the world. I am unsure how the former helps us understand the latter. The obvious reading of Karsh's view is that, just as it never was united, so the Dar al-Islam will never unite in confrontation with the West, will never find the internal peace to direct its energies to world domination.

A God Divided: Understanding the Differences Between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism
A God Divided: Understanding the Differences Between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism
by Christopher Catherwood
Edition: Paperback

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A disappointment, 3 Jan 2009
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Sadly, I found this book a disappointment. I also am a Balliol man and a Christian, although perhaps not of Catherwood's dogmatism. I had hoped for something more substantial. The author is absolutely right to nail his Christian credentials to the mast from the beginning. Let me give you some examples of what I find unsatisfactory.

Chapter one is about the major characters of the Pentateuch. Clearly the question as to whether the image of Abraham is the same in the three Abramahic religions is an important one. If there is also a mushy secular everyman Abraham, as expounded by Bruce Feiler, that is of peripheral relevance. What I want to know is how the Islamic Abraham is different. Apart from the substitution of Ishmael for Isaac, we are not told. In the middle of this chapter, we are told in one short paragraph that Islam has no concept of sin. Another important subject, but what is it doing at this point in the book? Muslims clearly have a concept of immoral, sinful acts that can send one to hell. So if they have no concept of sin, of original sin, this lacuna needs to be explain more carefully. Then we get a paragraph that says that the Old and New Testaments are straight narratives (well, a number of their books are) while the Koran is not. Again, this is an important subject, but gets one paragraph. Then there is an aside on the New Chronology, reconciling biblical and Egyptian histories. Is this relevant?

In chapter four, Catherwood tell us that the Koran sanctions up to five wives. Four is the usual understanding of the upper limit: as it says in Surah an-Nisa, verse 3: "Marry women of your choice, two, or three, or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them), then only one."

In chapter six, he argues that Islam has experienced its reformation, and that that reformation was Wahhabi Islam. He sees a line from Ibn Tamiyya through Al-Wahhab to the Muslim Brotherhood and the doctrine of sanctified violence against corrupt Muslim rulers. In tracing this theme, he might have gone further back, to the Assassins. As Catherwood would say, see the book by Bernard Lewis on this subject.

Like Catherwood, I too have wondered whether the westernised Muslim intellectuals who are held up as offering a way forward are dismissed by the majority of Muslims as liberals who have lost their faith. If these authors were Christian rather than Muslim, is this is how devout Christians would view them? The Canadian Muslim journalist with an openly gay lifestyle is an easy target, but I would like a more in depth assessment of this issue.

He concludes with a chapter that is an apology for Christianity based on biology and cosmology. The problem with the genetic Eve who lived 150,000 years ago is that she predates the genetic Adam by many millennia (as a result of the ability of a small proportion of men to father a disproportionate number of children). Both Eve and Adam are virtual foci. Again, the religious interpretation of current science is an interesting subject, but what is this brief foray doing here?

I could probably find more such points. The overall feel is that the book has been written in something of a hurry and is poorly structured.

Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest
Dark Side of the Moon: The Magnificent Madness of the American Lunar Quest
by Gerard DeGroot
Edition: Paperback
Price: 8.78

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Altiora pete, 14 April 2008
You will find devastating criticism of this book on the American Amazon site, Some of these relate to the NYU edition of 2006. The grosser errors, such as account that Apollo 9 went into lunar orbit, have been corrected in the Vintage Books edition of 2008 (page 230 of both editions). The author now correctly says that the testing of the docking manoeuvres by Apollo 9 took place in earth orbit. Similarly the statement that "An explosion ripped through the outer skin of the Command Module" of Apollo 13 has been corrected, placing the explosion within the Service Module (page 250 in both editions). According to one posted comment, deGroot was deeply embarrassed by these errors. Still the basic errors were made and undermine the scholarship.

The author is dismissive of Russian technology, crediting them with merely having oversized rockets (designed to lift their oversized nuclear warheads) but being far behind in all other aspects. This criticism is nothing new, but was also questioned long ago. When Lunik III successfully circled the moon, sending back pictures of the far side, Time of October 12 1959 pointed out that this required an accomplished package of instruments (by 1959 standards) as well as a powerful rocket.

I have no problems with the phrase "Dark Side of the Moon" as a title and metaphor. But on page 98 Lunik III is said to have taken "snapshots of the dark side". It would have been the height of folly for the Russians to have photographed the far side while it was in darkness; the published photographs show that it was not. Does the author, in the one sentence where he ought to drop the metaphor, not know the difference between the dark side and the far side of the moon?

The relative value of manned and unmanned exploration of both the moon and Mars is again becoming topical. DeGroot understands the value of near earth and geo stationary satellites for their utility in providing communication, navigation and observation. He shows no appreciation of the scientific interest of investigating the moon. It is perhaps not within his expertise to tell us how this might better have been done in the 1960s using unmanned missions. Given the success of the Mars Rovers Opportunity and Spirit, at very modest cost, the value of a manned mission to Mars needs to be questioned very seriously. Similarly, the case against a manned return to the moon would be strengthened by consideration of the unmanned exploration that is now beginning in earnest and what might be achieved by a series of unmanned lunar rovers capable of returning samples to earth.

The quotations from the Times, Telegraph and Observer on the book's cover are all complementary. I have more sympathy with the view of Robin McKie writing in the Guardian (3rd February 2008) "DeGroot, a sharp and witty writer, has prepared his case assiduously, though for my taste he overstates it badly, wilfully ignoring the romance and chutzpah of what was, after all, the 20th-century's crowning human achievement. More to the point, Dark Side of the Moon lacks any primary sources or interviews and is, essentially, a cuttings job, albeit a clever, enjoyable one."

I suspect that deGroot is a man with a profound social conscience who believes that the billions spent on the Space Race should have been spent on social welfare. He may well be right. Altiora pete. But writing an entire book saying how the money should not have been spent sounds like carping. Like most readers who have submitted reviews, I cannot recommend this book.

The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution
The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution
by John Brockman
Edition: Paperback

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The intellectual neo-elite, 3 Jun 2003
This is an interesting collection of essays by twenty three leading scientists in the fields of physics, cosmology, computational science, the mind and evolutionary biology, each giving an overview of what they think are the important innovations in their sphere of experise. There is a certain irritating self-consciousness, that these authors regard themselves as the new intelligentsia; Brockman certainly regards them as such.
Each essay and its author are commented upon by other contributors. This is quite enlightening. For example, I have read a significant amount of the published works of both Stephen Jay Gould and Richard Dawkins. But in most of their works, they write AT each other, without having the courtesy to explain to the general reader the agenda they are addressing, without explaining the other’s point of view fairly and often without explicitly stating whose views they are criticising. In this one volume, it all becomes much more explicit.
Each essay is of a length to read before sleeping or between planes.

Housecat: How to Keep Your Indoor Cat Sane and Sound
Housecat: How to Keep Your Indoor Cat Sane and Sound
by Christine Church
Edition: Hardcover

14 of 22 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good details, half the story., 11 Dec 1999
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First, let me declare that I am English. This is important. The great divide is between those Americans who keep their cats indoors-only and consider it madly irresponsible to do otherwise, and the rest of the world who risk letting their cats roam and think it is cruel not to do so. This book is written by an American lady of the first school. It contains good advice on keeping an indoor cat happy. It does not come to grips with the profound reservations that those outside of America will have with this policy. I understand that the author also collates New England ghost stories, so perhaps is not hard-headed enough to write the definitive book.
I would recommend anyone who really wants to get into this subject to read both this book and "The cat who cried for help" by Dr Nicholas Dodman. Dodman is a Scottish vet, working in the USA, treating behavioural problems in cats. He largely associates these problems with confinement indoors. He cites a mortality from euthanasia in the USA for behavioural problems that is of the same order of magnitude as the mortality on the roads in the U.K.
Why not buy both books before your cat comes to grief one way or the other. And don't get depressed; most humans and their feline owners live together very happily.
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