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4.3 out of 5 stars
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4.3 out of 5 stars
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on 5 January 2009
I endorse everything in the 5-star rated reviews already published - this book is one of the best I have ever read. I believe it makes a profoundly important contribution to understanding the 'backs-to-the-wall' mentality of people who feel so deeply threatened by the onward march of materialistic progress that their only recourse is to delve back to an idealised mythological past, when God was on their side, to try to rediscover the magic formula that will enable them to shake off the yoke of oppression and find their true destiny. It also demonstrates the inherent conflict between different types of fundamentalist thinking: between those who believe that the secret for success lies in turning their minds away from the world and inward towards God, restricting their lives to the correct observance of ancient rituals, and those who see the way forward as being to engage with the political process and fight for what they believe in, no matter what the cost in human lives or suffering (including their own). It not only explains the clash of different religions with each other and with secularism but also offers significant insights into the factional disputes that cause huge rifts within religions. Such insights seem to me vital to understanding that the politics of the Middle East is not just a bi-partite struggle over a piece of land but something far, far more significant.

One minor criticism of the book is a slight frustration, as a secular humanist, at what sometimes seems a religious apologetic. Thus she says(as quoted in the main review of this book above)things like "By the 18th century, however, ... people ... began to think that logos was the only means to truth and began to discount mythos as false and superstitious." The implication, stated more explicitly elsewhere, is that mythos is in some sense 'true' even though it is not 'literally true', which might be taken as indicating some sympathy for those who revert to it. She also talks about people perceiving spiritual 'realities' and uses phrases like 'the ground of Being' as though this meant something. I guess this shows that I am fully steeped in 'logos', but it would have helped if she had set out more clearly what exactly she meant by 'truth' and these obscure mystical terms.

One other thought that has struck me after reading this book is whether it is possible to have secular fundamentalism. In my view, one reason that scientific rationalism took off in Western Europe was the liberation of individualist thought from the shackles of organised religion following the invention of the printing press and the Reformation. This gave rise to a whole economic system based on individuals pursuing their own self-interest on the basis that an amoral market would allocate resources efficiently for the common good. Yet, as the recent credit crunch graphically illustrates, rational behaviour by individuals in an unregulated market can spell disaster for society as a whole... something that the exploited poor of the countries discussed in this book have long been well aware of. Could it be that disaffected secularists might one day search their evolutionary roots to work out what went wrong and join the religious fundamentalists in opposing a system that puts a price on everything and a value on nothing?
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on 19 March 2008
Karen Armstrong is again as thorough as ever in her research into the fanatical side of religion. She is able to show how and why some sects became so radicalise - from the rather innocuous Scopes trial in America to Qutub in Egypt.

However my very big issue with this book is it seems to be rather arbitrary as to where to start. It basically picks up the story of the religions round about 1500 AD. How you can write a book called "the battle for god" with a sub heading about fundamentalism and ignore the 200 years of crusading in the Middle East! The assassins, the military orders, the fall of Acre or the Moorish expansion into Spain all seem like examples of fundamentalism to me but are ignored. The giants of religious manipulation for the purpose of violence such as Heraclius, Tamerlane, Baybars or Pope Innocent III are never even mentioned. Indeed many of the fanatical issues that rose to the forefront in the 19th and 20th centuries were specifically related to the events and people listed above.

It is almost as if this is volume 2 to a 2 part study...except it isn't.

However what is here is an excellent (if again unnecessarily dry) account of the rise of fundamentalism as in the general society in the West there is also a rise in secularism. It is very well researched and creates a huge window into the understanding of why things are unfolding in the way they are today.

If you liked this there's more historical debate and fun at @HistoryGems on Facebook and Twitter
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on 24 January 2007
The Battle for God is as balanced an account of the history of fundamentalism as I have read. Karen Armstrong traces the rise of fundamentalism in the three Abrahamic faiths. Her basic argument, which recurs throughout the book, is that fundamentalism is a response to modernism by groups, which have been "left behind" by secular modernisation.

She argues this point well when she describes the rise of Evangelical Christianity in 19th century America and the creation of Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt in the 1950's. The book is well researched, with a good bibliography for readers interested in further reading.

She rightly devotes a lot of space to the Iranian revolution, which is the single event that cast Shiism as a violent, reactionary form of Islam in the eyes of the West. Baffling to most Westerners, she showed that the Iranian Revolution was a logical response to the alienation of the people by the Shah at the time (with the connivance of the US and UK).

Any book, which tackles such a topic will have to sacrifice detail for brevity. Therefore, her arguments are superficial when she posits that the loss of "mythos" in the West was the reason for the Swinging Sixties.

Furthermore, she argues that pre-modern societies were inherently conservative because their economies were agrarian and therefore could not sustain rapid innovation even if they wanted to. This argument ignores the fact that pre-modern Europe had to do develop a scientific rational system to become industrialised.

The Battle for God has given me a panoramic view of some of the reasons for the rise of fundamentalism. Karen Armstrong's book is a good introduction to the subject. However it only provides a superficial understanding of the subject. I will be doing some further reading, based on the excellent bibliography.
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on 28 July 2013
I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to understand the complexities of religious Fundamentalism.
Amazingly thorough research has gone into it by Karen Armstrong. Its tightly packed wording was off putting at first,
but it is so informative and readable this became unimportant. I would have preferred larger print - the 5 stars are for
the content!
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on 30 May 2008
This book is excellent from start to finish. Karen Armstrong carefully and honestly describes the history of four regions of fundamentalism during the past two millenia:
- Protestant fundamentalism in the USA
- Jewish fundamentalism in Israel
- Muslim fundamentalism in Egypt (Sunni)
- Muslim fundamentalism in Iran (Shia)

Throughout she gives what I found to be a balanced view of the history of each movements, its influences, its leaders, its ambition and its legacy. The level of detail is superb and although some areas can be difficult to follow as it gets to the more recent history (20th century) this becomes less of an issue.

Generally, the book splits into two sections: pre 20th century history describing how each community (more Jewish and Muslim than Protestant) established itself in different regions of the world, and then the 20th century where so much history has been condensed into such a short period of time.

I can't recommend this book enough for anyone interested in the subject and looking for perhaps a little more perspective than offered by the news channels
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Karen Armstrong's book does a great job of introducing the main religions and the potential perils associated with fundamentalism. It assumes however that certainty today means the same thing as certainty a few hundred years ago. Because of this Armstrong imputes things to the religions themselves which are really only modern developments within the religions themselves. this aside though Armstrong's book serves as a good introduction to the Western Religions in light of recent scary developments within all three.
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on 9 March 2015
This book gives a shocking insight into the background of most of our current issues in the Middle East including Israel
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on 18 August 2016
Brilliant quality and excellent condition - would recommend :)
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on 12 December 2015
Excellent in every way.
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on 22 February 2016
We must read
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