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“Religion occupies the highest seat in the human mind, and sees beneath it the civil matters pertaining to the world; it also ascends by means of them... and from that height it surveys what is natural, as from a tower one surveys the plains below.”   —  True Christian Religion 601

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Book Reviews

THE FAR ENEMY: Why Jihad Went Global

Fawaz A. Gerges

Through a detailed analysis of the jihadist movement in The Far Enemy, Fawaz A. Gerges points out that up until the late 1990's, jihadists had concentrated on fighting the “near enemy,” in order to bring about political and social change. As disagreement over strategy turned organizations like al-Qa’ida outward, the United States and allies were exposed to a larger scale of international terrorism. In this book, Gerges seeks to demonstrate that the key to counterterrorism lies in understanding the fractured nature of the jihadist movement that came about with these changes.

Gerges introduces the reader to some key jihadist leaders and ideologues, tracing the development of their thinking. His analysis of jihadist literature and interviews with jihadists show the divide that grew up between different groups. He contends that al-Qa’ida’s philosophy and strategy reflects a radical minority viewpoint within the larger jihadist movement, and that other organizations thought al-Qa’ida operations to be counterproductive and damaging to the jihadist enterprise. The result is that many jihadists are rethinking their historically violent approach to societal change in the Middle East, having watched al-Qa’ida’s activity in Iraq cause widespread revulsion in the Muslim world.

The book itself is not always an easy read. Gerges struggles mightily to present a clear picture of the complex jihadist movement, and he relies on the reader to draw connections between subjects addressed on his or her own. However, he manages to provide a new perspective on the true nature of jihadist organizations and the misrepresentation that occurs as a result of al-Qa’idas actions. The Far Enemy suggests that the seeds of al-Qa’ida’s eventual demise are sown in its own unpopular and unsustainable strategy. It is an interesting read that would have us recast al-Qa’ida as a national security problem rather than an existential, or even strategic, threat.

— Dr. D. Gregory Rose

Fawaz A. Gerges, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 0-521-79140-5

THE BOTTOM BILLION: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It

Paul Collier

In his book, The Bottom Billion, Paul Collier challenges and moves beyond the conventional wisdom of both right and left regarding economic development. He explores the list of recognized problems, while examining the pros and cons of various solution theories. He emerges with several, perhaps controversial, policy suggestions to help elevate the “Bottom Billion.”

Collier begins by reconceptualizing the world of economic development, arguing that about five billion people are part of the developed, or developing, world. The remaining billion are trapped at the bottom in about sixty countries that are only sinking lower into poverty. Collier claims that these countries are not only “falling behind, they are falling apart” as they export disease, crime, and conflict.

Using simple cost-benefit analysis, he presents four different political and economic traps into which these countries fall, as well as his conclusion that the aid we have offered so far has been ineffective. In only 224 pages, this book gets straight to the point: that the impoverished countries housing the bottom billion must rescue themselves, but they cannot and will not do it without external assistance.

Collier invites the reader to rethink economic development. The introduction to the book offers a taste of his recommendations: “The left will find that approaches it has discounted, such as military interventions, trade, and encouraging growth, are critical means to the end it has long embraced. The right will find that, unlike the challenge of global poverty reduction, the problem of the bottom billion will not be fixed automatically by global growth, and that neglect now will become a security nightmare for the world of our children.”

— Dr. D. Gregory Rose

Paul Collier, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195373383

How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success

Rodney Stark

Why did the economic, scientific and cultural explosion of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment happen in Christian Europe, not in Asia or the Islamic World? Rodney Stark is the author of the Rise of Christianity, an excellent explanation of how and why Christianity grew so fast in the early centuries of the first millennium. In his new book, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success, Stark attempts to debunk broadly accepted theories about how modern science, culture and the commercial economy developed.

Incorporating recent work on the scientific and mechanical revolution of the late middle ages, and on the economic efficiency of the monasteries at that time, Stark plays the role of myth-buster: progress did not begin when man was freed from the domination of the Catholic Church; progress was taught by church philosophers (Augustine, Aquinas) and put into practice (in the Cluniac monasteries) significantly before Luther or Descartes. Church philosophers learned how to cope with Catholic teachings on poverty, usury and just price, in such a way as to allow — and even encourage — the preservation of property and the accumulation of capital. Moral advancements of the Catholic Church brought a relative sense of equality, such as the abolition of slavery and increased upward mobility. The end result was the creation of pockets of freedom, in the free republics of Northern Italy and Holland, and in England. What we call the Protestant Work Ethic is merely a continuation of the monastic efficiency of the Middle Ages.

The author is not timid in his argument, and he could not be. He is, as he says, fighting a bias that goes back to the Enlightenment itself. How could a movement that preached the destruction of Catholic authority give any credit to the church for its role in the development of culture, science and the economy? Gibbon and others in fact developed theories that blamed the Christian Church for the fall of the Roman Empire and for the resulting misery in the first millennium A.D. Stark counters that it was the tyranny into which the Greco-Roman world had descended that brought about its own fall. But it was the new Christian culture which decentralized medieval man away from imperial taxation and dictatorship, and which inspired in him a hope for and belief in progress as an individual.

Decide for yourself whether Stark's argument is reactionary, and whether he is justly accused of revisionism by establishment historians and professors; or whether we have, as he convincingly argues, been subject to an anti-Christian historical interpretation. In either case, he has reminded us once again that our view of history is determined by our perspective, and things are not always what they seem.

— Erik Odhner

Victory of ReasonRodney Stark, Random House, ISBN 1-4000-6228-4

For additional review, or to order the book, try National Review's website.

The 70'S: The Decade That Brought You Modern Life — for Better or Worse

David Frum

This is a very clear presentation of the attitudes and customs that the 70's produced in the United States, and their effects over the subsequent three decades. As Max Boot of the Wall Street Journal said, "No one has done a better job of explaining the origins of our present-day culture." It is an easy, fascinating and well documented read.
— Carl R. Gunther

Andro Linklater

If you've ever wondered why the middle western United States looks like a vast checkerboard from the air, British historian Andro Linklater’s Measuring America: How an Untamed Wilderness Shaped the United States and Fulfilled the Promise of Democracy will interest you. As you read, you’ll also learn how we came to use the system of measurements we do and the effect that the radically new idea that individual citizens could own land had on the development of the country.
— Don Fitzpatrick

TREASON: Liberal Treachery from The Cold War to The War on Terror
Anne Coulter

For those of us too young to remember, Ann Coulter has done the research on the Left's passion for dictatorship and instinctive antipathy for America. From the Hiss-Chambers conflict in the 1940's and the Army-McCarthy hearings in the 1950's, Coulter carefully chronicles (almost 1,000 footnotes) how the American Left has repeatedly sought to cover up anti-American spying and sympathies by viciously attacking those who sought to expose treachery.

This book is an easy read — if vocabulary stretching at times. It is written in typical Coulter style, with no apologies and no holds barred. Her sense of irony and hypocrisy is so sharp as to be almost painful at times. More than merely informative and greatly amusing, Coulter rights a story that has been stood on its head — and does it with a smile.
— B.E. Odhner

Dinesh D'Souza

This book begins with a frank, very insightful analysis of what is wrong with America, and then goes on to show what is right about it. D'Souza is an immigrant from India, and is thus able to view this country with a special degree of objectivity. He draws upon his own experience in comparing life in the United States with India. There are advantages to life in India, but the opportunities in America outweigh them — and he is not speaking just of economic prosperity, but of freedom and self-fulfillment. We need to wake up to the faults in our society, and also, even more, wake up to the unique goodness which is embodied in America.
— Walter Orthwein