Hilaire Belloc was a writer who was often associated with his friend Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Chesterton is known today mostly from his religious books, though he was a far more important writer than this suggests. Belloc was of mixed French and English origin and was at home in both cultures. Belloc wrote a huge number of books, many of which would be worth reviving.
The two writers were associated with a political movement, the Distributists, which, following the encyclical Rerum Novarum of Pope Leo XIII, advocated an amelioration of capitalism by forming cooperatives, something followed up in the latter part of the 20th century in the Mondragon companies of the Basque country in Spain, now expanding to other countries.
Belloc's book "The mercy of Allah" is a satire on the way rich financiers made their money. It is the story of a rich man and the dishonest means by which he cheated his way to riches. Belloc strongly disapproved of parasitical Finance as a means of making money and preferred industry which actually makes things people need. One can imagine his comments on the modern situation by which the sociopathic "banksters" have come to dominate and ruin the economies of the west. His book has thus become, once again, timely.
I have known of one chapter of this book - "Al Kantara" (the bridge) - for many years since I read it in an anthology of Belloc's writings in the 1960s. I have vaguely wished to find the complete book, and now it is available as a reprint.
The satire is set in the Islamic world but is clearly commenting on the financial situation of contemporary Europe (the 1920s).
Belloc was accused of anti-semitism in his time and some of the followers of the "Chesterbelloc" drifted off towards the fascism of the 1930s (though Belloc condemned Hitler). This book does not show anti-Jewish sentiments, and its setting in the Islamic world is a literary device, showing that financial sins are universal.
I recommend this book as a witty satire which deserves to be better known.
I have not read much of Belloc's fiction, but I was not disappointed. I found this piece of satire ingenious and very funny. It very cuttingly points out the selfish greed on which capitalism is based. An excellent book. All of Belloc, I should say, is worth reading. He was a fully integrated man with his head screwed on correctly.
This is a very entertaining and picaresque satire on the unscrupulous art of making money. An immensely wealthy merchant is visited by his seven poor nephews everyday to hear the story of his life, to follow the many paths that led to the realisation of his mercantile dreams. It's a colourful, incident-packed adventure, set in the Middle East in the time of city states and travel by camel, of slavery, and Islam, an invented world in the mode of the Arabian Nights. Mahmoud, the merchant, is driven by one principle: to create wealth. He does it without conscience, through ingenuity, cunning, deception, trickery, astuteness, knowledge of other's avaricious weaknesses, doggedness, risk-taking, belief in the beneficence of Allah and his own good fortune, social adroitness, the ability to bounce back from misfortune, to seize the moment, to gamble, to flatter - and to do it with a supreme indifference to the damage he does to others. All's fair in business, might be his motto. He's a rogue writ large, a satirical portrait of a bloated entrepreneur - which, of course, has resonance for us today post the credit crunch and the banks' bailouts. He tells his story with candour, without regrets, with an engaging, story-teller's flair, which keeps us turning the page - as it keeps the seven innocent nephews rapt with attention. The book teems with invention, with sophisticated ideas about finance and economics disguised as fable, yet avoids being merely a novel of ideas. I picked up a 1932 reprint of this book, in an attractive, pocket-size Phoenix Library edition, and I'm very glad I did.
Belloc sardonically recounts the exploits of one Mahmoud, a sharp Baghdad merchant turned money lender who has grasped and clawed his way to the top. Ostensibly a critique of Islamic culture set many centuries ago, the book is really an attack on the unbridled greed of the modern West. As a work of socio-economic satire it forms a nice complement to Belloc's Distributist writings like The Servile State. A. N. Wilson calls it "the most brilliant of his fantasies."
I found a battered forty odd year old copy of this book at my father-in-laws and was intrigued by the title. Instead of being look at the religion of Islam it is a tale of entrepreneurial endeavour and ripping people off, and could just as easily been set in France or England, Hillaire himself must have been a business man to see all the ways to make money unfairly. It will not cause huge belly laughs but I smiled all the way through it. I looked for a copy in many shops before I bought a copy on Amazon for my Dad. I don't think he has looked past the title, which is a shame because I think he would enjoy it.
This book as another reviewer says is extraordinarily timely. It is a gripping yarn, shows an impressive insight into islamic societies and has a great deal to say about the greed of banks and the abuses of the current monetary system. Were it to be required reading in sixth forms it could have a beneficial effect on our society