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Book reviews

I write reviews to share what I learn from my reading. The books are listed below in strict alphabetical order with each title linked to the actual review.

"1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War" by Benny Morris
Views about the Arab / Israeli dispute are highly polarised, and the history is strongly contested. Israel's birth saw civil war between Jews and Palestinians and war between Israel and the surrounding Arab states. Benny Morris has written a detailed, well documented and very readable account of the conflict. Everyone, regardless of their existing views of the dispute, will learn from reading it.
"7/7:Muslim Perspectives" by Murtaza Shibli (editor)
25 Muslims write about what they were doing on 7 July 2005, how they were affected by this terrible crime, and how they feel about it five years later. I contributed so much to this book that I cannot review it. However, you can read the full text of my chapter, the book introduction and profiles of all the other contributors.
"A Fresh Look at Islam in a Multi-Faith World: A philosophy for success through education" by Matthew L.N. Wilkinson
This book is an important part of the Curriculum for Cohesion project. It constructs a philosophical framework for thinking about Islam which is then applied to the teaching of history, religious education and citizenship. The book is based on high quality research and detailed literature search, and the theory is developed rigorously. It requires the reader to think hard, but should be accessible to any university graduate.
"A History of Jewish - Muslim Relations: From the Origins to the Present Day" edited by Abdelwahab Meddeb and Benjamin Stora
Relations between Jews, Muslims (and Christians) have been of vital significance since the rise of Islam. Accurate historical knowledge is indispensable, as so many protagonists today distort history for their own ends. Accordingly this book will be a vital resource. In over 1,000 pages it brings together many experts in a book that is encyclopaedic in its coverage.
"A Minority within a Minority: a report on converts to Islam in the United Kingdom" by M.A. Kevin Brice
At the end of 2010, Faith Matters published a 40 page report "A Minority within a Minority: a report on converts to Islam in the United Kingdom". I consider it well worth reading.
"Among the Truthers: A Journey Through America's Growing Conspiracist Underground" by Jonathan Kay
Why do people believe in conspiracy theories? The author spent three years researching the American "9/11 Truth" movement and provides some insightful answers.
"And Then Came Peace" by Greg Masse
This is a work of fiction in the form of a thriller, set mainly in Jerusalem, in the midst of Israel / Palestine peace negotiations. The author uses the book to set out his vision of the underlying unity of all religions. It is exciting and captivating to read, with an almost magical quality that leaves one feeling uplifted. It reminds us that good things are possible as well as bad.
"A Portrait of Modern Britain" by Rishi Sunak and Saratha Rajeswaran
Britain's ethnic composition has changed dramatically in the last 60 years. 14% of the British population now belongs to an ethnic minority, projected to increase by 2051 to 20-30%. The 2011 national census and other sources provide very detailed information which this report condenses into 97 very readable pages. It is immensely informative.
"A Textbook of Hadith Studies: Authenticity, Compilation, Classification and Criticism of Hadith" by Mohammad Hashim Kamali
The Quran is the primary source of authority in Islam. The second source is Hadith. Hadith are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). This book explains how they were collected and verified. It is very easy to read and should be accessible to everyone who wants to learn more about hadith.
"Authentication of Hadith — Redefining the Criteria" by Israr Ahmad Khan
Hadith are oral accounts of the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Their authentication has traditionally relied almost entirely upon assessing the chain of narrators. However the author considers more emphasis needs to be given to assessing the text of the Hadith. The book is very clearly written, short, and easy to read and I recommend it highly.
"Behavioural Investing: A practitioner’s guide to applying behavioural finance" by James Montier
Why do so many investors, including investment professionals, perform poorly? The author contends that it is due to poor psychology, in other words behavioural errors. The book is clearly written, easy to read, and makes its case in detail. The author also shows us how behavioural mistakes can be minimised. Reading and applying it should improve the performance of all investors.
"Celsius 7/7" by Michael Gove
A short and very readable book setting out Mr Gove's views regarding the threat posed by "Islamist terrorism." Opinions about the book are very polarised. I think the author is right to emphasise the importance of the terrorist ideology.
"Chance Witness: An Outsider’s Life in Politics" by Matthew Parris
Matthew Parris is a well-known journalist and was a Conservative MP for 7 years after 1979. This is his autobiography up to the year 2000. It is extremely readable and fascinating and gives an excellent insight into the Conservative Party.
"Consanguinity in Context" by Alan H. Bittles
Scientific knowledge of genetics is less than 200 years old. However most human societies have long banned certain consanguineous relationships while allowing others. This book comprehensively covers the science and the social policy issues. It matters because many people are unaware of the serious genetic risks of marrying one's biological relatives. However people without a strong science education will find it hard to read.
"Countering Al-Qaeda in London: Police and Muslims in Partnership" by Robert Lambert
The author spent over 25 years in the Metropolital Police and founded the Muslim Contact Unit. He explains in detail how Islamists helped reclaim the Finsbury Park Mosque from Abu Hamza, and how salafis countered Al Qaeda recruitment on the streets of Brixton.
"Dear Infidel" by Tamim Sadikali
This short novel is easy to read. It illustrates some of the identity issues Britons of Pakistani origin face in our society. Readers of white British and of Pakistani origin should find it interesting.
"Emperor of the Five Rivers: The Life and Times of Maharaja Ranjit Singh" by Mohamed Sheikh
This short book gives a vivid account of a momentous period in Indian history. In 1799, the 19-year old Ranjit Singh created an empire in the Punjab, led by Sikhs but including Muslims and Hindus, that he ruled for 40 years.
"Fatwa on Terrorism and Suicide Bombings" by Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
The full English translation of Dr Qadri's meticulous fatwa. It systematically demolishes every Islamic argument the terrorists can put forward to justify their actions.
"Free Capital: How 12 Private Investors Made Millions in the Stock Market" by Guy Thomas
This book is based upon detailed interviews with 12 private investors. Two are identified, while the others use pseudonyms. The anonymity allows them to speak frankly about how they became full time investors. Everyone will learn something from this book, regardless of the extent of their previous involvement with investing.
"Hazrat A’ishah Saddiqah (R.A.A.) — A study of her age at the time of her marriage" by Ruqaiyyah Waris Maqsood
The traditional view is that Aishah was married to the Prophet (pbuh) when she was nine. Some Muslims therefore regard child marriage as commendable. Meanwhile non-Muslims cite her age of marriage to denigrate Islam and the Prophet. This 24 page booklet looks at the evidence and concludes that Aishah was most likely 19 when she married.
"Holy Terror" by Frank Miller
Frank Miller is the author of such famous graphic novels as "300", "Sin City" and "Batman: Dark Knight Returns", all of which have been filmed. However this 120 page graphic novel has cardboard characters, is filled with anti-Muslim propaganda and is best ignored.
"How not to die: Surprising Lessons on Living Longer, Safer and Healthier" by Dr Jan Garavaglia
Medical examiners see the many foolish ways people manage to get themselves killed. The book is entertaining while being full of sound advice for reducing the risk of an early death.
"How to Cure a Fanatic — Israel and Palestine: Between Right and Right" by Amos Oz
In this short but passionately written book Oz argues that both Jews and Palestinians have legitimate claims to Palestine. He considers that the only solution is compromise in the form of the two state solution. Many on both sides of the dispute are fanatics with closed minds; this book should help to open such minds.
"How to get things done without trying too hard" by Richard Templar
This book is very easy to read, and quite short. It contains about 100 efficiency improving recommendations, and almost everyone will find something that they are not already doing.
"How to talk about immigration" by Sunder Katwala, Steve Ballinger and Matthew Rhodes
Immigration is a key issue for most British voters, and much of the debate around it is highly polarised. This book is from British Future which is a think tank that believes in building a modern British identity and promoting integration. It is based upon detailed polling and focus group discussion and I regard it as a valuable contribution to the immigration debate.
"How to write a sentence — and how to read one" by Stanley Fish
Business English normally requires short sentences without any structural complexity. However that is not how one writes literature. This short book is a delight to read and introduces the reader to some wonderful sentences. It will improve everyone's ability to write good English.
"I'm NOT a Celebrity — I am a Muslim: One woman's journey to a world of faith" by Sahera Patel
Sahera Patel grew up in Bolton and is now a mother aged 40. This easy to read autobiography provides real insight into growing up as a Muslim girl in Bolton in the 1970's. I enjoyed reading it and wrote the foreword to the book.
"In Ishmael’s House — A History of Jews in Muslim Lands" by Martin Gilbert
Sir Martin Gilbert is an eminent historian and Winston Churchill's official biographer. He covers the period from the beginning of Islam to the end of the 20'th century. Under Muslim rulers, special rules applied to Jews (and Christians). Overall, Jews were better treated than Jews in Christian Europe, but periods of tolerance were interspersed with periods of persecution. In the 20'th century, the rise of Zionism led to increasing persecution of Jews by Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa, culminating in the expulsion of their Jewish populations.
"In the Shadow of the Sword: The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World" by Tom Holland
This book sets out to give a historical account of the rise of Islam. This requires evidence in the form of manuscripts, coins, buildings, inscriptions and other tangible remains which the author emphasises are sparse. The earliest written Muslim histories date from a later period. The author first covers the prior history of the Eastern Roman and Persian Empires so that he can put Islam into the historical context of the Middle East. He then addresses the available historical evidence. In his view the Quran originated when Muslims believe, and Muhammad (pbuh) was in Medina. However he considers that Islam did not originate in Mecca but instead between Medina and Palestine.
"Islam and the Future of Tolerance — A Dialogue" by Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz
Sam Harris is a well-known atheist commentator while Maajid Nawaz is a former Muslim extremist who now chairs the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam. This book contains an extended dialogue between them on whether Islam is compatible with tolerance. It is short, very easy to read, and gives real insight into the issues.
"Islam on Serving Humanity" by Shaykh-ul-Islam Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri
Due to terrorism, many non-Muslims associate Islam primarily with violence. Meanwhile many Muslims focus on the rituals of Islam while ignoring their responsibility to other people. This book, for which I wrote the preface, cites the Quran and Hadith to demonstrate the essential Islamic obligation to serve all humanity, Muslim and non-Muslim. It is part of Dr Tahir-ul-Qadri's "Islamic Curriculum on Peace & Counter Terrorism."
"Islam — Past Present and Future" by Hans Kung
Kung is one of the world's leading Roman Catholic theologians. This book is part of a trilogy on Judaism, Christianity and Islam. While Kung writes as a deeply committed Christian, he provides a genuinely sympathetic and detailed coverage of the origins of Islam, its history and its present day challenges. The book is comprehensive and authoritative, but still very easy to read.
"Islamic Banking and Finance: What It Is and What It Could Be" Editor Tarek El Diwany
1st Ethical put in significant effort to enable this book, which has 11 authors as well as the editor, to be published. It is aimed at professionals new to Islamic banking and finance, and at students at undergraduate level and above. I found it interesting to read, but conclude that it fails the objectives it set itself. As well as the review, there is a response from the Editor Tarek El Diwany.
"Islamic Commercial Law: An Analysis of Futures and Options" by Mohammad Hashim Kamali
This is my favourite book on Islamic finance and provides the reader with a sound grounding in the Quranic and Hadith sources before going on to analyse futures and options. It is the book I always recommend to people who are new to Islamic finance.
"Islamic Law — Theory and Interpretation" by Michael Mumisa
A short and very readable introduction to the way Islamic Law is derived from its sources. The author The author believes that we need to interpret the Quran afresh for the modern world, rather than feeling bound by traditional interpretations.
"Jacob's Legacy: A Genetic View of Jewish History" by David B. Goldstein
The author is professor of molecular genetics and director of the Institute for Genome Science and Policy's Center for Population Genomics and Pharmacogenetics, Duke University, USA. He has written a short and gripping book which is accessible to everyone regardless of scientific or religious background.
"Jesus, Prophet of Islam" by Muhammad Ata'ur-Rahim and Ahmad Thomson
The early history of Christianity is not well known by most Muslims, or indeed by most Christians. This book explains who doctrines such as the Trinity and salvation by the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus on the cross entered the early Christian church. Most Christians are also unaware of how much coverage Jesus gets in the Quran.
"Jihad Squad" by Ibrahim S. Amin
This graphic novel is by my eldest son but I was only allowed to see it after it was published. I found it quite amusing. Despite being humorous, it gives a disturbing insight into the world-view of people who want to be jihadis.
"Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam" by Akbar Ahmed
The author is a trained anthropologist. Starting in September 2008, he and his team spent nine months on fieldwork travelling the length and breadth of America. They met with around 2,000 subjects, Muslim and non-Muslim. That makes this project the largest ever survey of America's Muslims. It is illuminating and full of insights.
"Mapping Integration" edited by David Goodhart
Integration poses challenges for many countries including the UK. The word "integration" itself has many contested meanings. The Demos think tank has been focusing on the issue and one output is this collection of short essays which is well worth reading. It is free to download.
"Minority Verdict — The Conservative Party, the voters and the 2010 election" by Michael A. Ashcroft
Lord Ashcroft was at the heart of Conservative campaign strategy from 2005 - 2010. He gives a fascinating, short and very readable insight into how the Conservative Party needed to change, and why it just failed to win an overall majority.
"Monkey with a Pin — Why you may be missing 6% a year from your investment returns" by Pete Comley
Pete Comley wrote this free book to share what he learned about why investors underperform the stock market index. In it he explains in very simple language why investors go wrong and recommends how they should change their behaviour.
"Muslim Civilisation: The Causes of Decline and the Need for Reform" by M. Umer Chapra
The author is a leading economist and Islamic finance specialist. He attributes the decline to causes internal to the Muslim world, and places greatest emphasis on political illegitimacy.
"Muslims on the Map: A National Survey of Social Trends in Britain" by Serena Hussain
This book by an academic geographer contains some fascinating insights into Britain's Muslim population.
"Old New Land (Altneuland)" by Theodor Herzl
A novel by the founder of modern Zionism, setting out his utopian vision for the future of Palestine.
"Palestinian Walks: Notes on a Vanishing Landscape" by Raja Shehadeh
The author is a Palestinian Christian lawyer who for decades has fought legal cases against Israeli land expropriations in the West Bank. He writes about seven walks in the West Bank, sharing his love of the countryside and his sense of loss as it is stolen.
"Principles of Islamic Jurisprudence" by Mohammad Hashim Kamali
This book is probably the leading work on the subject in English. In 500 very readable pages, the author explains how Islamic law is developed from the original sources of the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet (pbuh). It helps one to understand the diversity and depth of Islamic thought.
"Qur’anic Concepts of the Ethics of Warfare: Challenging the Claims of Islamic Aggressiveness" by Joel Hayward
In this short paper, Dr Hayward reviews what the Quran says about when Muslims are permitted to fight and the rules which apply. He shows that these rules are almost identical to the Christian "Just War" concept.
"Quranic Studies: Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation" by John Wansbrough
This book is the source of the radical view that the Quran was not composed when generally believed, but around 200 years later, and in Mesopotamia rather than in Western Arabia. It is written in obscure academic language and very hard to read. I found it unconvincing and severely flawed.
"Radical: My journey from Islamist Extremism to a Democratic Awakening" by Maajid Nawaz
Maajid Nawaz is the Chairman and co-founder of Quilliam. He spent four years inside Egyptian prisons for his political beliefs. This autobiography vividly takes us into his life, from childhood to today. It is a compelling read, as well as giving insights into the mind of a radical.
"Rational Expectations: Asset Allocation for Investing Adults" by William J Bernstein
Deciding what types of investment you should hold matters far more than your specific investment selections. Your decision depends on your investment objectives and your attitude to risk. This short book teaches you about the issue in a methodical but entertaining way.
"Revolt on the Right: Explaining Support for the Radical Right in Britain" by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin
UKIP is the most significant new political party since the rise of the Labour Party. UKIP supporters are often believed to be entirely disaffected Tories. The book details the history of UKIP, and looks at who supports it. It concludes that UKIP supporters are very different from the supporters of the other three main parties.
"The Battle for British Islam: Reclaiming Muslim Identity from Extremism" by Sara Khan with Tony McMahon
The main author of this book, Sara Khan, has practical experience of preventing young people being radicalised. The book covers the main groups in the UK which promote an extreme and intolerant version of Islam and shows how the Government's Prevent programme has been systematically maligned by its opponents. It also profiles the many unsung heroes who are promoting an inclusive vision of Islam in Britain.
"The Bomb on the Rock" by Michael Weiss
This is a short work of fiction where Palestinian terrorists smuggle an atomic bomb into Jerusalem with the help of a Palestinian "sleeper." It is very easy to read, and quite gripping. Accordingly I recommend it as mental relaxation. It also has an important message of reconciliation.
"The Cambridge companion to the Quran" edited by Jane Dammen McAuliffe
This book comprises 14 independent chapters written by academic experts on the Quran, both Muslim and non-Muslim. It is an excellent short introduction to the study of the Quran, and is very easy to read.
"The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order" by Samuel P. Huntington
The title of this book has probably influenced far more people than have ever read it. It is often cited as evidence of unavoidable conflict between Islam and the West. On its own terms, the message of the book is much more mixed, foreseeing conflict between many civilisations. However the book's dystopian future shows no signs of being realised. It should be seen as part of a genre of "declinist" books which have been around for almost a century.
"The Constitution of Liberty" by Friedrich Hayek
This book has inspired an entire generation of people who believe in personal freedom and its relationship with free market capitalism.
"The Education of a Value Investor: My Transformative Quest for Wealth, Wisdom, and Enlightenment" by Guy Spier
I bought this book primarily because I knew Guy Spier. It reveals that we have a surprising number of interests in common. The book is short, easy to read, informative and the author is very open about himself. I believe that it should make every reader a better investor.
"The Israel lobby and US foreign policy" by John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt
In the USA this book was very controversial. I believe it provides a blueprint for British Muslims.
"The Jewish State" by Theodor Herzl
This short book was the founding text of modern Zionism. The seeds of the Israel / Palestine conflict can be found inside it.
"The Little Book of Behavioral Investing: How Not to be Your Own Worst Enemy" by James Montier
This book is short and easy to read. In simple language it explains why investors make so many bad decisions. Reading it will help you to understand yourself and to become a better investor.
"The Monster Hunter's Handbook" by Ibrahim S. Amin
This is my eldest son's first published book. It is both funny and informative.
"The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else" by Hernando de Soto
Why does capitalism work in the West, but fail in so many other countries? In the 1990s Hernando de Soto and his colleagues went fact-finding. They went into the streets of developing and former communist nations to learn what real people are achieving inside and outside the formal economy. They found that even poor people in such countries have assets and savings which could be used for successful capitalism, but nevertheless these countries are underdeveloped. In this book they summarise their findings and explain the key changes underdeveloped countries need to make to transform their economies.
"The Myth of Digital Democracy" by Matthew Hindman
The internet gives ordinary citizens the power to publish material that can be read by everyone in the world who has computer access. Many commentators have argued that this is democratising public discourse, since the old media such as newspapers and TV concentrated power in the hands of only a few publishers. The author demonstrates with detailed research that this view is incorrect because although it is easy to speak in cyberspace, it is very difficult to be heard.
"The Other Schindlers: Why some people chose to save Jews in the Holocaust" by Agnes Grunwald-Spier
Hiding a Jew risked death for you and your family. Most people looked the other way, but some risked everything to help complete strangers. How do people make these choices? It is a fascinating short book, and very readable.
"The Right Kind of History — Teaching the Past in Twentieth Century England" by David Cannadine, Jenny Keating and Nicola Sheldon
The authors have written the first history of how History has been taught in English schools from 1900 to 2010. The book is very easy to read and helps one to think clearly about this vital issue. Afer all, we are our history.
"The Road to Mecca" by Muhammad Asad
Muhammad Asad was born as Leopold Weiss in Poland, but became one of the most famous Muslims of the twentieth century. This autobiography covers his first 32 years. It paints a vivid picture of his early life, recreates the Middle East of the 1920's, explains what brought him to Islam, and reflects upon the radical message of the Prophet (pbuh).
"The Second Arab Awakening — And the Battle for Pluralism" by Marwan Muasher
Marwan Masher is a former Foreign Minister and former Deputy Prime Minister of Jordan, with obvious deep knowledge of the Arab world. He gives a short, readable and insightful survey of the main Arab countries, their problems, and how they needs to change. There is also a video of him being interviewed at the book launch by Michael Binyon.
"The Simpsons and their Mathematical Secrets" by Simon Singh
This 230-page paperback by a leading popular science writer is both entertaining and informative. No advanced maths required!
"The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life" by Alice Schroeder
Warren Buffett is one of the world's richest men, and almost certainly its most famous investor. This 838 page authorised biography paints a very moving picture of the man, as well as recounting his business successes and philosophy.
"The Theory of Investment Value" by John Burr Williams
This is one of the seminal works on investment valuation. Written in 1938, it is still worth reading today.
"The Triple Package: What Really Determines Success?" by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld
Some groups in America are clearly much more successful than others. The authors investigate why and identify three characteristics, all of which are needed to make individuals in a group successful. They are a superiority complex, insecurity and impulse control; together the Triple Package. Reading the book I could see the impact of these personality characteristics in my own life.
"The Wages of Sin Taxes; The True Cost of Taxing Alcohol, Tobacco and Other “Vices”" by Christopher Snowden
Many countries have heavy taxes on tobacco, alcohol and gambling. These are often justified by arguing that smokers, drinkers and gamblers impose costs on the rest of society. The author looks at the hard evidence and disproves these justifications. This 50 page booklet from the Adam Smith Institute can be downloaded free.
"Triumph of the Optimists: 101 Years of Global Investment Returns" by Elroy Dimson, Paul Marsh and Mike Staunton
This is the most definitive study I know of investment returns over the last century. The authors look at equities, bonds, treasury bills, inflation and currencies for 16 countries. The book is very clearly written and the high quality colour charts and tables make the data easy to absorb.
"Voodoo Histories: The Role of the Conspiracy Theory in Shaping Modern History" by David Aaronovitch
Why are some people so ready to believe in conspiracy theories? The book covers a number of modern conspiracy theories in depth and then comes up with a theory about the types of people drawn to them.
"Wandering Lonely in a Crowd" by SM Atif Imtiaz
This is a collection of the author's essays and speeches ranging over the nine years since 11 September 2001. In them the author gives a personal view what he calls "the Muslim condition in the West."
"Why should anyone be led by you? — What it takes to be an authentic leader" by Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones
Leadership is vital to the success of organisations. Accordingly the authors, who are both business school academics, have spent much time researching successful and unsuccessful leaders. From this they have identified some key characteristics and behaviours of successful leaders and explain these in a very readable manner. The book should encourage reflection in every leader and potential leader who reads it.

 

 

 

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