One of the books I picked up at the Borders sale was Juan Cole’s Engaging the Muslim World. I was looking forward to it, as Cole’s blog is an essential resource on the Middle East. But I can’t really recommend it, unless perhaps you’ve never read another book on Islam or the Middle East— and if that’s the case there’s plenty of other books that would do better— George Packer’s The Assassin’s Gate, for instance.
The basic problem is breeziness. He covers oil dependence, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Israel and Lebanon in a little more than 200 pages. He covers the basics, tells you how to disentangle the radicals from the nationalists, the various Islamic sects from each other, explains the craziness of the US’s “Islam Anxiety” and where Bush went wrong. But there just isn’t room for much in each chapter.
I also get the impression that he wrote the book in exasperation at George Bush’s endless incompetence, and the half-cynical half-stupid attempt by Republicans to goose up an undifferentiated Islamic threat as a replacement for the Cold War. Well, if you can’t see why it was unlikely that a nationalist secular Iraqi state would cooperate with al-Qaeda, or why Shi`ite Iran won’t be contained by (but also won’t dominate) a democratic Iraq, or Afghanistan is so disunited, then Cole will carefully explain it to you. But in the meantime Obama got elected, and then the Arab Spring happened, and we really have a whole new set of concerns and opportunities.
Anyway, bottom line: blog still good, book is so-so. (I’d give a link, but WordPress has cleverly redesigned its interface so none of the buttons work on the Mac.)