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The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
The Locust Effect: Why the End of Poverty Requires the End of Violence
by Gary A. Haugen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £18.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Killing locusts, ending violence, 15 April 2014
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All of us will have heard about the Millennium Development Goals, eight goals "rang[ing] from halving extreme poverty rates to halting the spread of HIV/AIDS and providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015" (UN, 2014). One of the most important messages that "The Locust Effect" has taught me is that there is one big thing missing from these goals: the development of law enforcement in the developing countries of the world.

Haugen and Boutros take quite a number of pages (never boring the reader, by the way) in their book to tell why better law enforcement, in the most broadest sense imaginable, is needed in especially the developing countries. Their thesis is that through better law enforcement the poor will finally feel safe and will live without fear of oppression, which in turn will help in developing society, the educational system (for example, why go to school if you will be raped?), the medical system and the economy (which in many poorer countries, according to Haugen and Boutros, is still based on the colonial system of protecting the interests of the rich and governing class). They support this thesis with an enormous amount of data, stories and research; a comprehensive list of their sources can be found in the back of the book.

These stories not only paint the broader picture of what is wrong in the world and why there are so many locusts picking on the poor people, but also a smaller and more personal picture, through the use of case studies and stories of people who have been abused, enslaved, raped and oppressed. And finally, they also show what can be done to fight this injustice in their final chapter.

All in all, this is a good and most welcoming book. It improves on the work of for example Sen, Easterly and Collier and brings in a much needed and intellectually very refreshing point of view. Hopefully, many people, NGOs and countries will take this message to heart.


Destiny Disrupted
Destiny Disrupted
by Tamim Ansary
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars We need more of these kind of stories, 1 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Destiny Disrupted (Paperback)
The first chapters of this book tell a familiar story, about the origins of the Islam, the development of the religion, the place Muhammed has in the story, the struggle between the first successors of the Prophet, and the civil wars that took place in the first decades AH. These familiar stories are well-known and Ansary tells nothing new about them in this book. Of course, he adds some nice details and appealing story twists, but nothing special. If you want to learn about this fascinating piece of history, you will find that this book has everything want. If you want to read another book telling basically the same story, but with more Shia (over against the Sunni) story lines, read "After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam" by Lesley Hazleton.

The chapters in "Destiny Disrupted" about Europe and the way that Islamic countries were overpowered by the Europeans - economically, socially and politically - are very interesting and belong to the strongest parts of the book. In these chapters Ansary shines in describing how the (policy) choices of the Europeans impacted the Islamic countries, and what the effects were on the people living in those countries and their culture. In these chapters, this book proofs its subtitle - "A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes" - to be absolutely true. Europeans can write about this, but not in the same way that a Muslim can, simply because Europeans were - and still are (as is one of the theses of this book) - the guys who knew how others had to behave and develop.

This book tries to be a history of the world, but it misses quite a number of historic developments, such as the Goths in Spain or the various Arabic tribes/clans in Nothern Africa. Basically, this book re-tells the history of Europe and the Middle East, and it does so in a very thorough and interesting way, and of course from a new perspective. But it's no history of the world.

"This book presents two mismatched world histories intersecting. Muslims were a crowd of people going somewhere. Europeans and their offspring were a crowd of people going somewhere. When the two crowds crossed paths, much bumping and crashing resulted, and the crashing is still going on." (p.353)

"Destiny Disrupted" is a book written by a Sunni. For example, when Ansary describes how the Prophet Muhammed dies, he tells that the Prophet died in the lap of his wife Aisha. But that's not how Shia people tell this story; according to them, the Prophet died in the lap of his son-in-law Ali. Moreover, the first four Caliphs are described as the 'Rightly Guided'. But, Shia believers don't except the first three Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman), according to them Ali (the fourth Caliph) is the rightful successor of Muhammed. If the author is a Sunni and tells history from a Sunni perspective, he should tell the reader so, but he did not do that. This is unfortunate, because it sows doubt about his background and thus about his portrayal of Shia history in the larger perspective of Islamic history.

In the introduction, the author mentions that he is not a professional historian, jurist or theologian, which might make the book not live up to professional historic quality standards. Indeed this is visible in the text, for example through sentences in the text in which the author writes in the I form and presents his own opinion and ideas, without substantive arguments or backing from sources. This might be a disadvantage, but I don't think it is. By telling the story this way, Ansary gives the reader the idea that he is speaking directly to you instead of through a book: in person-to-person discussion you have more liberty to present well-known common sense developments and correlations, because all the participants in the discussion know that they are true.

All in all, this book is a welcome addition to my personal library on European and world history, because it presents a perspective that is so often lacking from discussion, the perspective from the overpowered ones. We need more of these kind of stories.


Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion
Religion for Atheists: A non-believer's guide to the uses of religion
by Alain de Botton
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Of service to the secular and the religious world, 1 Dec 2013
Very commendable for its attempt in redeeming practices that are virtually only known in religious circles.

One of the most obvious pieces of critique one might have against de Botton, is that his book - and this one is no different - is superficial. It lacks the depth and breadth of analytical philosophical works. He does mention a few philosophers, but doesn't go into much detail on what they have said, how their lines of argument looked like and how his reflections do or do not fit within their frameworks.

But that is beside the point, since de Botton is not trying to write such a work. His work may be described as experiential philosophy. He takes some very practical and concrete (and thus recognizable) experiences, writes them down and muses a bit on what they might mean. This method is interesting, because it opens up the world as we know it in new and different ways. He helps his readers see new things and develop new insights, that can be used in daily life almost directly. If that's no philosophy...

There are many details that I don't agree with necessarily, but I won't go into those, since there is a larger objection to be made. One of the things religion does very effectively is bond people together. Be it through a shared vision on the afterlife, a shared vision of the good life on earth, the belief that God wants them to do certain things in life or act in certain ways, or something entirely different, but this shared vision bonds together. It makes people come to church or the mosque each week, it makes certain that dropping out of the religious community is no easy thing, and it makes the religious community look attractive because they do good.

Every religion has a story to tell about metaphysics and secularists do not, since for them it's only the current life that counts and is of value. For them, nothing exists outside of the here and the now. But if metaphysics are missing from a secular worldview and if a God who expects certain things in life from his followers is missing from that same worldview, why should individual people decide to stick to the behaviors and acts de Botton proposes? Why should people become loyal followers of this secular faith, if their only reward is that they will become better people?

I don't believe they will do so freely, because otherwise they would have already developed the behaviors, activities and institutes that de Botton proposes. It's not without a reason that the secular world (including its universities, museums and restaurants) look like they do right now, it's - at least partly- because earthly promises (money, wealth) seem to be better rewards then becoming a better person. In other words, if there is only a small group interested in becoming a better person, how will the new community of believers in this secular faith sustain its activities and institutes in the long run?

I belief this work to be of service to the world, both the secular and the religious world. I have highly enjoyed it and look forward - albeit skeptically - to the reformation of the secular world that this book proposes.


Confessions of a Public Speaker
Confessions of a Public Speaker
by Scott Berkun
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A gem, 1 Jan 2013
This book is a gem, because of the honesty Berkun shows when he speaks about his own experiences. He discusses many topics related to public speaking and he does so in a very open, funny and honest way. When he discusses his own experiences with public speaking he is not afraid to show himself, to discuss his own faults and errors, and to describe what he learned from it. This makes the book's pragmatic lessons very approachable to everyone: know your material, prepare yourself, play with the audience, and be silent sometimes.

At the end of the book Berkun added a bibliography, in which he lists quite a number of other books about public speaking and learning. This is really helpful if you want to know more, but also as a theoretical background to what Berkun writes in this book. This book is pragmatic and practical, and thus very useful for all people who want become better public speakers.


Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive
Liars and Outliers: Enabling the Trust That Society Needs to Thrive
by Bruce Schneier
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.89

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Both well-researched and practical work on trust, 14 Aug 2012
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Before I started reading "Liars and Outliars" I had never given much thought to the topic of trust in society. Of course, I had thought about security, but mainly from a technical standpoint: how to use it to secure myself and ourselves against threats from the outside. This book has taugt me how trust and security belong together and how the latter can be used to fill up the gaps that result from lacking the former. This book stands out, because both of its well-researched models and theories and because of its practicality: each of the main ideas is larded with examples that make understanding the presented ideas really easy.

This book is divided in four parts. In the first part Schneier brings the reader up to par with the current state of the 'science of trust', as he calls it. In these chapters he talks about the way human beings and some animals cooperate, how cooperation developed in their respective species, what altruism is, and what a society is. This first section of the book ends with an interesting set of societal dilemmas and - most importantly - a framework by which each of these dilemmas can be understood. In this framework Schneier puts the societal (or group) interest over against the interest of the party (or person) that wants to defect.

Part two of the book presents four pressures influencing every societal dilemma, namely societal, moral, reputational and institutional. Each one of these parts of this model of trust is described in detail and explained through examples. This part of the book ends with an overview of the topic of security and how it relates towards these pressures. In this chapter, Schneier shows once again how good and well-balanced security is necessary to counterbalance the different forms of trust. He also describes how security influences each of the four pressures.

The first two parts of the book are quite theoretical and systemic, but legible and understandable nevertheless. In the third section Schneier takes his models into the real world, to see how they fit in. He does so from the perspective of competing interests within organizations (each group of people), corporations (different from individual people because they're no people with personal interests), and institutions (governmental groups, with their particular interests). What has kept with me after reading these chapters is that each 'society' has its own interests and that these interests do not always fit in with the interests of others. I believe that dissecting societal dilemmas through Schneier's model of trust really helps to gain a fuller understanding of the weight and content of the forces at work.

The fourth and final part of the book contains three chapters with conclusions. For some part, these chapters are a repetition of the previous chapters. They contain, however, a kind of counterbalance to the well-reasoned and rational model of trust Schneier presented, because of the concept of the human psychology that sometimes gives us the desire to do things that are not so reasonable. Moreover, he describes some of the technological advances that have been made and will be made, and - more importantly - how both cooperators and defectors make use of technology. This section also holds a fiery speech in favor of well-reasoned, community-based, transparant, and general forms of security technology.

In his last chapter Schneier once again makes sure that we understand that security is not something do once and then forget, it's a process that needs to be readjusted all the time. It's also important to keep in mind that society both needs cooperators and defectors (or outliers), since the latter group is able to foster innovation, that can be used to improve society for all of us.


Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States)
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 (Oxford History of the United States)
by Gordon S. Wood
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Comprehensive and readable analysis of the first decades of the American republic, 6 Aug 2012
In the first eight chapters of this book, Wood tells us in vivid and lively language about the first three presidents of the United States. He tells about their struggles with themselves, how they tried to practice what they preached and idealized about democracy and republicanism, about the way they viewed liberty, about the way the 13 states saw themselves, about the role of the nation state, about the way they viewed their role as president in relation to the new and struggling Congress. He also tells about their yearning for freedom, real freedom, from the former mother country and from France, and Wood writes about much more. Ultimately, Wood tries to show how the presidents - and the parties that formed willingly or unwillingly around them - molded the collection of American states that were part of the early republic.

When I was reading these chapters, I soon discovered that these chapters make up the political background of the other chapters that come after them. The first eight chapters need to be read in chronological order, otherwise the reader will miss important facts or developments. The next ten chapters - the book has nineteen chapters in total - are more of the topical kind and they describe the transformation that took place in the states that made up the Union. For example, in chapter 9 Wood describes the way the American society came to life in a truly republican country, in chapter 11 and 12 he tells about the role and place of the law in American society and how the Supreme Court dugg out it's own place over against the highest courts of the states, and chapter 16 tells about the way religion changed under the leveling and middling influence of republicanism.

The last and final chapter is different from the others. In that chapter Wood brings together all that he has described and told in the preceding chapters, to show that the seeds for the republican experiment that were planted in 1776 and replanted in 1789 have come to fruition, and that many storms and difficult discussions and arguments have helped the democratic idea of Enlightenment to permeate the whole of American society.

Of course, each chapter contains about 100 references to relevant sources, giving the reader the opportunity to do some research for himself. And for even more research, the book also contains a bibliographical essay containing book titles and references on virtually every subject that the book touched on.

This book is an excellent sequel to The Glorious Cause: The American Revolution, 1763-1789 (Oxford History of the United States) by Robert Middlekauff, that describes what happened in the years leading up to the American Revolution until it finally finished in 1789, and that is where Gordon Wood picks up with this most excellent and comprehensive analysis.


The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad
The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad
by Fareed Zakaria
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Can we pass laws ourselves?, 10 Jun 2012
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This book tells the story of liberty and democracy. In its first chapters Zakaria describes how these two separate developments are related and how they influenced the world at large. These first chapters are mainly backward looking, they tell us what has happened in the last few centuries in Europe, America, Russia, China, and the Islamic world with regards to liberty and democracy.

One of the most interesting parts of this first part of the book is the section where Zakaria describes the three phenomena that have helped spur the development of liberty and democracy in many places: a technological revolution, growing middle-class wealth, and the collapse of alternative systems and ideologies that organized society. These topics return many times in the other chapters of the first part of the book, and they are enormously helpful in understanding what has happened in the past and how new democracies have come into existence.

However, the final chapters of this book really made it worthwhile. The important point that Zakaria tries to argue for is that over the last few decades at some places in our Western societies we have added too much democracy and openness. He therefore proposes to add more distance from the vox populi to the democratic processes. Moreover, he argues that a bit of secrecy is actually good for the quality of the decision making process.

To illustrate the fact that the quality of the decision making process has deteriorated because of the influx of democracy, Zakaria tells the story of the opening up of the deliberations of the internal committees of America's Senate and House of Representatives in the 60s and 70s of the previous century. One result of this development was that pressure groups got the possibility to lobby for their own particular subjects, thus making it way harder to come to bipartisan agreements and proposals. This used to be, at least according to voting results, definitely easier to accomplish before the changes.

A strong point of this book is that Zakaria not only describes these developments and why they're wrongheaded, he also proposes changes to our democracies to amend things before anything goes completely wrong. For example, he proposes to make more use of discussions behind closed doors in the Senate and the House, so that deliberations cannot be influenced by all kinds of different pressure and lobby groups. The book contains many of these examples.

In conclusion, this book has made me rethink my standpoint towards direct forms of democracy. Where I used to believe that direct democracy was the way to go, this book helped me see that it obviously has positive sides, but that when there is too much of it, it also has significant downsides that are easily overlooked, especially if you're trying to find other causes for today's imperfect Western democracies. In other words, this book has helped me to see that an elite - a group of people that leads instead of follows the will of the people - definitely is needed in most democracies.


Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty
Islam without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty
by Mustafa Akyol
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.31

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Islam is not a priori incompatible with modern ideas, 26 May 2012
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Reading this book helped me see that there actually *is* a rationalist school of thought in the Islam; this school of thought stands over agains the traditionalist school. The former constantly tries to interpret the Quran in light of the current time, whereas the latter tries to stay - in various forms - as true as possible to the Islam that existed during the days of Muhammed. In this book, Akyol not only shows how these separate schools of thought developed, but he also tries to understand why they developed as they did and why the traditionalist school of thought seems to have 'won'.

Secondly, I learned a lot about the development of the Quran and the Haddith, and thus about Islamic culture and religion. At first there was the Quran, the book that was written by Muhammed, and of course there was Muhammed himself. Both sources of information were available to the people of Muhammed's time. Then the Prophet died, which was an unfortunate event. After his death, people tried to make sense of both his teachings and of the Quran, but found that difficult. Then they remembered some of the Prophet's teachings and wrote them down. But, they also came up with new teachings, teachings that weren't Muhammed's, but were fitting for the ideas that people were striving for. To me, this put the whole Hadith in a completely new perspective and showed me that there is not necessarily one way or method in Islamic thinking.

This book taught me that the development of the Islam - and religion in general - has been closely related to the context in which it was founded: the desert of the Middle East. Christianity developed in a context of many small and larger cities of the Roman Empire, whereas Islam developed in the desert and though a bedouin lifestyle. To me - in line with Akyol - this explains a lot of the customs and ideas that can be found in the Quran and in the Haddith.

The fact that economies in the Middle East have been growing for some time now, the fact that a middle class is coming into existence, and the fact that the role and influence of the West (Europe and the USA) in the Middle East is declining, all these developments give me hope for a better, more prosperous and peaceful future. In this book Akyol showed that these developments - and many more, of course - have shaped the development of Islam during the last few centuries in general and Turkey in particular. They help to infuse a sense and feeling of and striving for liberty in people.

And finally the most important lesson of this book, Islam is not a priori incompatible with secular liberal democracies. History has shown that it is possible, albeit not easy, to combine a secular and liberal state with Islam. Moreover, some Islamic theologians believe that there is no argument to be made against a modern form of Islam, one that is compatible with the modern and post-modern society we live in in the West. Hopefully, the revolutions in the Middle East - Egypt, Syria, Tunisia - will help to bring this message of hope, aspiration, imagination and possibility to the fore!


The Hand of Fatima
The Hand of Fatima
by Ildefonso Falcones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.29

4.0 out of 5 stars The hand of a master, 7 April 2012
This review is from: The Hand of Fatima (Paperback)
A few weeks back I strolled through my favorite book store and saw this book on the shelves. Without a doubt I picked it up, for I had enjoyed 'The Cathedral of the Sea' very much. Then I started reading and it was no disappointment.

This book is located in Spain, at the end of 1500s and the beginning of the 1600s. It details the story of one Ibn Hamid (Islamic name) or Henrico Ruiz (Christian name) and his struggle to live in a time where Muslims and Christians were not supposed to get along. The story starts with an uprising of Muslims over their Christian masters, but it's clear from the start that the Mores are losing this struggle. Within this first part of the story all seeds for Ibn Hamid's life are planted: his troublesome relation with his father, his twofold relationship with the Christian Church and his Islamic faith and his love for the Alhambra.

Ildefonso Falcones is a master story teller. Although the book is not thin with its more than 900 pages, he makes you forget this fact: those 900 pages feel like much less, because the story he tells within them is so impressive, compelling and vivid. Definitely a must-read.


Public Faith, A: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
Public Faith, A: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good
by Miroslav Volf
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £7.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring, yet short, 11 Mar 2012
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It is the conclusion of this book that has been with me since reading it a few weeks ago. In this conclusion Volf discusses the speech President Obama gave in Egypt on June 4, 2009. In this speech Obama showed how his own faith was inspired and molded by the cultural and religious context he grew up in and - most importantly - did not loose its core meaning: his faith is still about Christ. Obama's faith, according to Volf, contains an appreciation for the religion of others and it even contains some of the heritage of the other religions he got in contact with.

For me, that is the message of this book: it is perfectly possible to be a professing Christian and to love God with all your heart on the one hand, and be inspired and formed through discussions and debates (in all kinds of ways) with non-Christians on the other hand. Only by doing this will I be able to live with them in one and the same society, without judging those other people because they are different.

In the chapters before the conclusion Volf tries to show why many followers of the Christian faith malfunction in a non-Christian culture. Although his findings are recognizable, they seem to be based on anecdotal evidence. The theological answers he offers in response to his findings are sound and thorough (albeit a bit short and thus condensed).
He also discusses the question of what a Christian's main concern in the world ought to be: interestingly he does not propose that Christians ought to be evangelizing in the traditional sense of the word, instead he believes - and of course he gives some biblical arguments for this as well - that they should be working towards human flourishing, because in that way the good things of God come to us.
In the last chapters before the conclusion Volf discusses an engaged faith. In these chapters he shows in a balanced way what it means for Christians to be a Christian in this culture and in this world. Fortunately, he does not only talk about how Christians ought to live in relation to non-Christians, but he also discusses what they ought to do in relation to their self. That, this piece of self-critique, is sorely missing in many other pieces on the role of Christians as Christians in society.

All in all, Volf has written an interesting and thought-provoking book--hopefully, it also provokes some acts. At times the book is a bit short on arguments and embeddedness in well-researched examples, but in the light of the good ideas that are presented in it, that is not really a big problem.


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