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Book Review of: No god but God
We highly recommend No god but God.
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No god but God, by Reza Aslan
Reviewer: Mark Lamendola
The first thing that struck me about this book is how well-written it is. I am a writer with about 5,000 articles in print or online. I'm also an editor, and I am noted for my harsh evaluations of the writing of others--most people simply do not write well.
Reza Aslan writes well. Extremely well.
By the time I was into the second page of this book, I felt that if Aslan had written a book about navel lint, I would still want to read it.
Couple the excellent writing with quality content, and you have a captivating book. When the subject is an authoritative explanation of Islam, the book becomes a must read for two groups of people: Those who are Muslims, and those who are not.
Aslan takes us on a journey through time. We see Muhammad before he becomes the "messenger of God," and we see his struggles along the way. From this, you can understand how Islam got its start. And then we see the various forces that act upon Islam as a blacksmith's hammer acts upon hot metal, and we watch this religion take shape over centuries.
Today, Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world. But, it's also a sharply fragmented religion. Aslan explain the origins of the various factions shaping Islam today. There's a strong parallel to what happened in Christianity. And, Aslan draws on this parallel to explain a core concept of the book--that Islam is far from monolithic. You have to remember that Christianity got a 500 year head start on Islam. Read your history of the West, and you can see Islam along the same trajectory.
Americans, in the aftershock of September 11, generally felt much of the Islamic world had declared war on the West. In actuality, the war is between Islamic factions--just as there were wars between Christian factions five hundred years ago (and still are, today). The West is, to many of the warring factions, a symbol of power. An attack on the West is a way to demonstrate power to the other factions. Of course, there's also a hatred of the West--but that hatred isn't the core driver it's made out to be.
Yet, that hatred is a powerful force in itself. Contrary to what many liberals have been spewing, this hatred did not arise from recent actions of any American political leader. Aslan destroys that bit of proganda by addressing the history of colonization--the enslavement, displacement, and impoverishment of millions of Islamic people.
What about this interfaction rivalry? Islam is beset by three major philosophies. One philosophy seeks to keep the original vision of Islam pure--that is, to not deviate from the teachings of Muhammad. A second philosophy is that Muhammad was not pure enough, and so Islam must become more radical (think of the Taliban, here). The third philosophy is that Islam must change to adapt to the modern world--it must throw off the chains of ignorance and poverty. Aslan explains the thinking behind each of these philosophies, without preaching to the reader.
Aslan's views come into play at the end of the book, where he ties everything together. But, you don't get the feeling this is the author trying to convince you of his own views. By this point, the reader already trusts Aslan and sees him as an expert. Now, the reader gets the expert's viewpoint on where Islam should head and why.
The book carries the reader through many spiritually dark places, but emerges into the sunshine of hope. The end is inspiring and encouraging, and it carries a message for people of all religions. It is a message well worth taking to heart.
About these reviews
You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?
I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?
And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.
This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.
My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.
A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.
About your reviewer
About reading style
No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.
Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.