Monthly book roundup

Books finished in July:
(Warning: reviews are unpolished and quickly written.)

  • From Fatwa to Jihad: The Rushdie Affair and Its Aftermath by Kenan Malik. Malik, a psychologist and writer living in Britain, son of an Indian Hindu-Muslim couple, was shocked by the burning of Salman Rushdie’s book The Satanic Verses in Bradford in 1989, and it is never any doubt that his sympathy is with the freedom of speech and against making exceptions to that, to any religious or political side. He makes several good points:
    -Rushdie early on an outspoken anti-racism, anti-imperialism voice.
    -multiculturalism in Britain imposed from above, not broadly demanded from below.
    -multiculturalism restraining youth to live within boundaries and rules the British society had in many cases discarded.
    -diversity of views within communities, evidence from surveys. Mullahs, etc often not representative.
    -militants often have little knowledge. In fact, Malik views them more as generic protesters/rebels than moved by religious, fairness, or other intellectual motives.
    -Malik got article with an analogy between Rushdie and the freethinker Thomas Paine (1737-1809) rejected by the Independent, and is worried about possible increasing self-censorship.
    -cartoons etc published many times without controversy, then some people were able to make them light fire. This shows that the context is crucial. Perhaps there is some hope in this, in that controversy does not necessarily run deep.
  • Ava’s Man, by Rick Bragg. Nostalgic about Charlie Bundrum, an all-beloved family- and handyman living in the South during the great depression. Not without faults, but revered by everyone. Worked as carpenter, (bootleg) whisky-maker, and fisherman. A bygone time that was not long ago.
  • Two Caravans, by Marina Lewycka. Ok.
  • The Prodigy: A Biography of William James Sidis, America’s Greatest Child Prodigy by Amy Wallace. The life of William James Sidis (1898-1944), wizard of mathematics, languages and much else. Probably well endowed naturally, and was taught to love learning and reasoning by his parents. It is striking how much of this upbringing is regarded as standard in many environments today: Answering children’s question seriously, talking to them as adults, learn them reasoning and principles rather than isolated facts and rigid rules. The author makes that case that WJS suffered from a dysfunctional relationship between his parents, having to be socially together with older others, and above all from being hunted on by the tabloid press. Made substantial contributions to mathematical physics, but eventually he retreated into anonymity and menial jobs, although still an intellectual firework in the areas that he did not leave behind, like politics and the collection of streetcar transfers(!). Although eccentric he did not appear bitter. The moral is nevertheless to treat children seriously as learners, but let them be children.
  • Up from Slavery by Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington was born into slavery in 1856. He lived as a slave until the end of the civil war in 1865, when his family was freed. He was determined to learn how to read and managed to obtain an education at the Hampton Institute, Virginia. A strong advocate of the importance of education for the black race. Apparently there were tensions between this approach and the more confrontational tone of many others in the black political community, but this is not something that is mentioned specifically in the book. Washington stressed the importance of learning a trade to become an integrated and valued member of society, and worked as an educator for most of his life, heading the Tuskegee Institute, Alabama, from 1881 until his death in 1915.
  • Revolt in the Desert: The Authorised Abridged Edition of “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T. E. Lawrence. Unnuanced generalizations about nations, peoples, etc. Not engaging.

Ratings and additional books are in the library.

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