Monday, October 24, 2011

The Modern Middle East: A Reader

The Modern Middle East: A Reader
Edited by Albert Habib Hourani, Philip Shukry Khoury, Mary Christina Wilson

This valuable collection of essays brings leading Middle Eastern scholars together in one volume and provides an unparalleled view of the modern Middle East. Covering two centuries of change, from 1789 to the present, the selection is carefully designed for students and is the only available text of its kind. It will also appeal to anyone with a general interest in the Middle East.
The book is divided into four sections: Reforming Elites and Changing Relations with Europe, 1789-1918; Transformations in Society and Economy, 1789-1918; The Construction of Nationalist Ideologies and Politics up to the 1950s; and The Middle East since the Second World War.

Includes Roger Owen's case study that argues that much of what happened in Egypt in the 19th century is well accounted for in the theories of Marx, Hobson, Luxemburg, Hilferding and Baran. But there are three areas where the theories do not provide and adequate framework: the role of the metropolitan states in relation to their capitalists, the nature of the Egyptian state and the changes in the Egyptian social structure with imperial penetration produced.

Saturday, October 22, 2011


Masada: Herod's Fortress and the Zealots' Last Stand
by Yigal Yadin

Respected historian and archaeologist Yigael Yadin is an expert on the well-known ancient Masada fortress, and here he presents the incredible story of the 960 Jewish men, women, and children who refused to be taken alive by Flavius Silva and his Roman Tenth Legion. This covers the siege of Masada, the mass suicide of the 960 rebels (when victory was clearly impossible they decided that "a death of glory was preferable to a life of infamy" (as prisoners)), and the 1963-1965 excavations at Masada that yielded a huge amount of artifacts that reveal even more about the rebels, who were led by Eleazar ben Yair. This is a compelling story made even better by the more than 200 photos showing all kinds of artifacts, including spearpoints, coins, pottery, jewelry, surviving Old Testament scrolls, skeletons, even clothing items that have survived to this day! There's also a generous amount of maps that are very helpful. This siege is one of the most interesting in military history, and this story is a lasting testament to the strong character of the Jewish people.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


by Jean Racine

Andromaque (Andromache) is a tragedy in five acts by the French playwright Jean Racine written in alexandrine verse. It was first performed on 17 November 1667 before the court of Louis XIV in the Louvre in the private chambers of the Queen, Marie Thérèse, by the royal company of actors, called "les Grands Comédiens", with Thérèse Du Parc in the title role. The company gave the first public performance two days later in the Hôtel de Bourgogne in Paris. Andromaque, the third of Racine's plays, written at the age of 27, established its author's reputation as one of the great playwrights in France.

Racine's play is a story of human passion, with the structure of an unrequited love chain: Oreste is in love with Hermione, who only wishes to please Pyrrhus, who is in love with Andromaque, who is determined to honour the memory of her murdered husband Hector and to protect the future of their son Astyanax. Orestes' presence at the court of Pyrrhus unleashes a violent undoing of the chain. At the climax, provoked by Hermione's desperation, Pyrrhus is murdered by Oreste's men in a mad rage; this only serves to deepen Hermione's despair. She takes her own life by the side of Pyrrhus and Oreste goes mad.

Witches and Neighbors

Witches and Neighbors: The Social and Cultural Context of European Witchcraft
by Robin Briggs

An impressively researched cross-cultural exploration of a disturbing phenomenon in European history. Religion scholar Briggs (Oxford Univ.), concentrating on the period from the 14th to the 17th centuries, offers a thought-provoking analysis that disabuses the reader of some commonly held stereotypes about witchcraft. The most startling fact is that not all of the accused were women. Men accounted for approximately 25 percent of accused witches in early modern Europe, though in France men composed half (and in Iceland 90 percent) of those on trial. Indeed, it is the pan-Europeanism of this book that is so novel and refreshing. Rather than merely trotting out the same hackneyed examples from Britain, France, and Germany, Briggs highlights the regional diversity of beliefs about witchcraft and official attitudes toward it in Sweden, Hungary, Italy, and elsewhere. His overarching point is that the cultural gestalt that facilitated witchcraft's magic worldview was widespread in Europe, as was the misperception about these beliefs, though the machinery of accusation, trial, and execution was located on the local level, generally in small rural communities. Briggs has painstakingly researched the records of these village trials and enriches his narrative with the poignant personal testimonies of both accusers and accused. ``Unneighborliness,'' Briggs argues, was a principal element in many of these cases: In peasant villages, where families depended heavily on their neighbors as insurance against hard times, any hint of stinginess, envy, or malice suggested that more sinister forces might be at work. But Briggs fails to adequately explain the demise of witchcraft in most European cultures in the 17th century. Given the tremendous amount of local variation in belief and practice, it is significant that witches' trials and executions faded all over the European scene at approximately the same time. The circumstances surrounding the decline of a belief in witchcraft deserve an additional volume from this able researcher and deft writer.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

"Principles of Personal Management"

"Principles of Personal Management"
from The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
by Stephen R. Covey

Habit 3: Put First Things First

Plan, prioritize, and execute your week's tasks based on importance rather than urgency. Evaluating if your efforts exemplify your desired character values, propel you towards goals, and enrich the roles and relationships that were elaborated in Habit 2.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, first published in 1989, is a self-help book written by Stephen R. Covey. It has sold more than 15 million copies in 38 languages since first publication, which was marked by the release of a 15th anniversary edition in 2004. Covey presents an approach to being effective in attaining goals by aligning oneself to what he calls "true north" principles of a character ethic that he presents as universal and timeless.