New and Noteworthy. (Reviews)

Contemporary Review, October 2002 | Go to article overview
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New and Noteworthy. (Reviews)


From ROUTLEDGE we have a third edition of David Mauk and John Oakland's American Civilization: An Introduction ([pounds sterling]45.00) to replace the last edition published five years ago. It has been thoroughly revised and brought up to date, to include the election of George W. Bush and the September 2001 terrorist attacks. The approach remains analytical with discussions on government, the law, social services, sports, regionalism and geography. The last two are indispensable ingredients for understanding such a vast country, however ignored by many foreigners. The illustrations are well chosen and extremely helpful in discussing such a large and varied country. PIMLICO, noted for its paperback editions of previously published hardbacks, is making a name for itself in its 'Pimlico Original' series. One of the latest titles is Sally Denton and Roger Morris' The Money and the Power: The Making of Las Vegas and Its Hold on America, 1947-2000 ([pounds sterling]15.00), first published in the U.S. last year. Th e image most have of Las Vegas, its vulgar hotel, gambling dens and shady reputation, belie the importance of the place to American life, especially American criminal life. As the authors point out, the city was really founded on illegal drug smuggling during the Second World War led by the criminal, Meyer Lansky. It remains the 'wellspring of a corrupt, corrupting political economy', the centre of a 'trillion dollar industry'. While this book may not increase one's regard for American life, it does fascinate.

Despite all the talk of Islam's peaceful nature by 'good people' in the wake of last year's terrorist attacks on America, the historical fact is that Mohammed's followers have combined expansionism and violence with a hatred of other religions from the very beginning. Terrorism, likewise, is nothing new as seen in a new title from SUTTON PUBLISHING: The Assassins: The Story of Medieval Islam's Secret Sect by W. B. Bartlett ([pounds sterling]20.00 and US $29.95). This band of professional killers, in fact a Mohammedan sect known as the Nizaris, was first noted by Europeans in the thirteenth century who turned their native name, hashishiyyun ('hashish takers') into assassins. Two of its characteristics were the use of assassination and the belief that if a man died at work he immediately became a 'martyr'. (Whether there were 'virgins' waiting for him on the 'other side' is not known.) The author argues that the sect's use of assassination was 'a defensive mechanism employed by a group who were at a hopeless di sadvantage' vis-a-vis their enemies. (The group now survives in India.) The myths surrounding the 'assassins' or Nizari sect have obscured the truth and most surviving records come from hostile sources. This book aims at giving a balanced history of this 'fascinating and unique story'. While the original assassins now only survive as a group in India, their ancestors' example sadly lives on.

Two new books on the Desert War have both recently been published and both come from JOHN MURRAY. The first is Jon Latimer's Alamein ([pounds sterling]25.00). As the author points out, the battle of Alamein was the last victory in which British forces carried the day without the involvement of allies. It was also the first great Allied victory in the War. Discussion of the battle invariably brings on a debate about Montgomery's merits as a commander and his not altogether pleasing personality as well as a debate about Churchill's abilities as Minister of Defence. The author describes these debates without taking sides. By using the wealth of published memoirs, unpublished material in various libraries (including the Imperial War Museum), other histories and the recollections of men in the ranks he has been able to weave together a history that sees both the large-scale manoeuvres and the individual contributions. His own military background is here most evident.

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