Earlier this year, Schocken Books released “Menachem Begin: The Battle for Israel’s Soul,” by Daniel Gordis (Shalem College – Jerusalem). The publisher’s description follows:
Reviled as a fascist by his great rival Ben-Gurion, venerated by Israel’s underclass, the first Israeli to win the Nobel Peace Prize, a proud Jew but not a conventionally religious one, Menachem Begin was both complex and controversial. Born in Poland in 1913, Begin was a youthful admirer of the Revisionist Zionist Ze’ev Jabotinsky and soon became a leader within Jabotinsky’s Betar movement. A powerful orator and mesmerizing public figure, Begin was imprisoned by the Soviets in 1940, joined the Free Polish Army in 1942, and arrived in Palestine as a Polish soldier shortly thereafter. Joining the underground paramilitary Irgun in 1943, he achieved instant notoriety for the organization’s bombings of British military installations and other violent acts.
Intentionally left out of the new Israeli government, Begin’s right-leaning Herut political party became a fixture of the opposition to the Labor-dominated governments of Ben-Gurion and his successors, until the surprising parliamentary victory of his political coalition in 1977 made him prime minister. Welcoming Egyptian president Anwar Sadat to Israel and cosigning a peace treaty with him on the White House lawn in 1979, Begin accomplished what his predecessors could not. His outreach to Ethiopian Jews and Vietnamese “boat people” was universally admired, and his decision to bomb Iraq’s nuclear reactor in 1981 is now regarded as an act of courageous foresight. But the disastrous invasion of Lebanon to end the PLO’s shelling of Israel’s northern cities, combined with his declining health and the death of his wife, led Begin to resign in 1983. He spent the next nine years in virtual seclusion, until his death in 1992. Begin was buried not alongside Israel’s prime ministers, but alongside the Irgun comrades who died in the struggle to create the Jewish national home to which he had devoted his life. Daniel Gordis’s perceptive biography gives us new insight into a remarkable political figure whose influence continues to be felt both within Israel and throughout the world.
This month, Stanford University Press will publish Days of Revolution: Political Unrest in an Iranian Village by Mary Elaine Hegland (University of Santa Clara). The publisher’s description follows.
Outside of Shiraz in the Fars Province of southwestern Iran lies “Aliabad.” Mary Hegland arrived in this then-small agricultural village of several thousand people in the summer of 1978, unaware of the momentous changes that would sweep this town and this country in the months ahead. She became the only American researcher to witness the Islamic Revolution firsthand over her eighteen-month stay. Days of Revolution offers an insider’s view of how regular people were drawn into, experienced, and influenced the 1979 Revolution and its aftermath.
Conventional wisdom assumes Shi’a religious ideology fueled the revolutionary movement. But Hegland counters that the Revolution spread through much more pragmatic concerns: growing inequality, lack of development and employment opportunities, government corruption. Local expectations of leaders and the political process—expectations developed from their experience with traditional kinship-based factions—guided local villagers’ attitudes and decision-making, and they often adopted the religious justifications for Revolution only after joining the uprising. Sharing stories of conflict and revolution alongside in-depth interviews, the book sheds new light on this critical historical moment.
Returning to Aliabad decades later, Days of Revolution closes with a view of the village and revolution thirty years on. Over the course of several visits between 2003 and 2008, Mary Hegland investigates the lasting effects of the Revolution on the local political factions and in individual lives. As Iran remains front-page news, this intimate look at the country’s recent history and its people has never been more timely or critical for understanding the critical interplay of local and global politics in Iran.
Last month, Random House published Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East by Scott Anderson. The publisher’s description follows.
The Arab Revolt against the Turks in World War One was, in the words of T.E. Lawrence, “a sideshow of a sideshow.” Amidst the slaughter in European trenches, the Western combatants paid scant attention to the Middle Eastern theater. As a result, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power.
Curt Prüfer was an effete academic attached to the German embassy in Cairo, whose clandestine role was to foment Islamic jihad against British rule. Aaron Aaronsohn was a renowned agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria. William Yale was the fallen scion of the American aristocracy, who traveled the Ottoman Empire on behalf of Standard Oil, dissembling to the Turks in order gain valuable oil concessions. At the center of it all was Lawrence. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in the sands of Syria; by 1917 he was the most romantic figure of World War One, battling both the enemy and his own government to bring about the vision he had for the Arab people.
The intertwined paths of these four men – the schemes they put in place, the battles they fought, the betrayals they endured and committed – mirror the grandeur, intrigue and tragedy of the war in the desert. Prüfer became Germany’s grand spymaster in the Middle East. Aaronsohn constructed an elaborate Jewish spy-ring in Palestine, only to have the anti-Semitic and bureaucratically-inept British first ignore and then misuse his organization, at tragic personal cost. Yale would become the only American intelligence agent in the entire Middle East – while still secretly on the payroll of Standard Oil. And the enigmatic Lawrence rode into legend at the head of an Arab army, even as he waged secret war against his own nation’s imperial ambitions.
Based on years of intensive primary document research, lawrence in Arabia definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. Sweeping in its action, keen in its portraiture, acid in its condemnation of the destruction wrought by European colonial plots, this is a book that brilliantly captures the way in which the folly of the past creates the anguish of the present.
Next month, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. will publish Dissident for Life: Alexander Ogorodnikov and the Struggle for Religious Freedom in Russia (2013)by Koenraad De Wolf. The publisher’s description follows.
This gripping book tells the largely unknown story of longtime Russian dissident Alexander Ogorodnikov — from Communist youth to religious dissident, in the Gulag and back again. Ogorodnikov’s courage has touched people from every walk of life, including world leaders such as Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan, and Margaret Thatcher.
In the 1970s Ogorodnikov performed a feat without precedent in the Soviet Union: he organized thousands of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians in an underground group called the Christian Seminar. When the KGB gave him the option to leave the Soviet Union rather than face the Gulag, he firmly declined because he wanted to change “his” Russia from the inside out. His willingness to sacrifice himself and be imprisoned meant leaving behind his wife and newborn child. Continue reading
This November, The Catholic University of America Press will publish Marriage on Trial: Late Medieval German Couples at the Papal Court by Ludwig Schmugge (President, Scientific Committee of the German Historical Institute, Rome, Italy), translated by Atria A. Larson (The Catholic University of America). The publisher’s description follows.
In the first detailed study of papal penitentiary materials on marriage, renowned medieval historian Ludwig Schmugge tells the exciting stories of seduced maidens, too-closely-related husbands and wives, and thousands of couples who faced lawsuits–all of whom had transgressed marriage law on various grounds in the Middle Ages. This work vividly describes many of the individual cases and offers new insight into the social and legal pressures on marriage in the Middle Ages.
At a time when betrothal, marriage, and sexual morals were strictly subject to the church’s law, petitions from couples abounded. More than two hundred clerics of the penitentiary in the papal curia devoted their time and attention to these petitions alone. With exceptional thoroughness, Schmugge sifted through the thick volumes of registers in the Vatican Secret Archives for his research. Here he presents the exciting, almost unbelievable, and often scandalous fates of these late medieval men and women, while highlighting the important connection between the papal monarchy and the social history of the laity in the later Middle Ages.
This December, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division will publish Punishment and Penance: Two Phases in the History of the Bishop’s Tribunal of Novara by Thomas B. Deutscher (St Thomas More College, University of Saskatchewan). The publisher’s description follows.
Punishment and Penance provides the first comprehensive study of an Italian bishop’s tribunal in criminal matters, such as violence, forbidden sexual activity, and offenses against the faith. Through numerous case studies, Thomas B. Deutscher investigates the scope and effectiveness of the early modern ecclesiastical legal system.
Deutscher examines the records of the bishop’s tribunal of the northern Italian diocese of Novara during two distinct periods: the ambitious decades following the Council of Trent (1563–1615), and the half-century leading up to the French invasions of 1790s. As the state’s power continued to rise during this second time span, the Church was often humbled and the tribunal’s activity was much reduced.
Enriched by stories drawn from the files, which often allowed the accused to speak in their own voices, Punishment and Penance provides a window into the workings of a tribunal in this period.
This October, West Law will publish Larson’s Creationism in the Classroom: Cases, Statutes, and Commentary by Edward J. Larson (Pepperdine University School of Law). The publisher’s description follows.
This casebook, by a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, explores fundamental legal issues relating to how scientific and religious concepts of biological origins should be presented in public-school biology courses. Although numerous legal arguments are invoked, the Establishment Clause typically stands at or near the center of most disputes: Does teaching Darwinism or creationism, or disparaging them, in public schools promote or hinder religious belief in violation of the First Amendment? In grappling with this question in various forms as presented in differing fact situations over the past half century, American courts have examined the meaning of the Establishment Clause and sharpened their interpretation of it. This is the first and only casebook devoted to this topic, and it is ideal for use in education law programs, constitutional law seminars, and legal history courses.
This January, Stanford University Press will publish The Emergence of Modern Afghanistan: Politics of Reform and Modernization, 1880-1946 with a new introduction by Vartan Gregorian (President of Carnegie Corporation of New York). The publisher’s description follows.
Long heralded as a seminal work on the history of Afghanistan, this book traces the evolution of the modern Afghan state by studying the politics of reform and modernization that started in 1880 through World War II. This history is marked with persistent attempts by the Afghan ruling dynasty to assert and strengthen its rule—both against the great imperial powers, as well as over the various Afghan tribes within its territory.
In this reissue, Vartan Gregorian offers a new introduction that places the key themes of the book in the context of contemporary events, addressing questions of tribalism, nationalism, Islam, and modernization, as well as the legacies of the Cold War and the various exit strategies of occupying powers. The book remains as distinctive today as when it was first published. It is the only broad work on Afghan history that considers ethnicity as the defining influence over the course of the country’s history, rather than religion. In light of today’s ongoing struggle to develop a coherent national identity, the question of Afghan nationalism remains a particularly significant issue.
This August, Ohio University Press published Between the Brown and the Red: Nationalism, Catholicism, and Communism in Twentieth-Century Poland by Mikolaj Stanislaw Kunicki (University of Notre Dame). The publisher’s description follows.
In this study of the relationship of nationalism, communism, authoritarianism, and religion in twentieth-century Poland, Mikołaj Kunicki shows how the country’s communist rulers tried to adapt communism to local traditions, particularly ethnocentric nationalism and Catholicism. Focusing on the political career of Bolesław Piasecki, a Polish nationalist politician who started his journey as a fascist before the war and ended it as a procommunist activist, Kunicki demonstrates that Polish Communists reinforced the ethnocentric self-definition of Polishness and—as Piasecki’s case proves—prolonged the existence of the nationalist Right.
In July, Cornell University Press published Only Muslim: Embodying Islam in Twentieth-Century France by Naomi Davidson (University of Ottawa). The publisher’s description follows.
The French state has long had a troubled relationship with its diverse Muslim populations. In Only Muslim, Naomi Davidson traces this turbulence to the 1920s and 1930s, when North Africans first immigrated to French cities in significant numbers. Drawing on police reports, architectural blueprints, posters, propaganda films, and documentation from metropolitan and colonial officials as well as anticolonial nationalists, she reveals the ways in which French politicians and social scientists created a distinctly French vision of Islam that would inform public policy and political attitudes toward Muslims for the rest of the century—Islam français. French Muslims were cast into a permanent “otherness” that functioned in the same way as racial difference. This notion that one was only and forever Muslim was attributed to all immigrants from North Africa, though in time “Muslim” came to function as a synonym for Algerian, despite the diversity of the North and West African population.
Davidson grounds her narrative in the history of the Mosquée de Paris, which was inaugurated in 1926 and epitomized the concept of Islam français. Built in official gratitude to the tens of thousands of Muslim subjects of France who fought and were killed in World War I, the site also provided the state with a means to regulate Muslim life throughout the metropole beginning during the interwar period. Later chapters turn to the consequences of the state’s essentialized view of Muslims in the Vichy years and during the Algerian War. Davidson concludes with current debates over plans to build a Muslim cultural institute in the middle of a Parisian immigrant neighborhood, showing how Islam remains today a marker of an unassimilable difference.