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Between Memory and Desire:
R. Steven Humphreys reveals the rich complexity of the Middle East--a region that stretches from Egypt to Afghanistan--in Between Memory and Desire, a set of ten "interlocking essays" that take on everything from economic growth and nationalist movements to Islamic human rights philosophy. Humphreys has a very clear and concise writing style that makes easily comprehensible an enormous amount of historical and cultural data with which most Western readers will be largely unfamiliar. He demolishes many of the mythic images that Americans have built up around the region and its people, like the "madman" dictator: "When we look beyond the façade of theater and posturing," Humphreys writes, "we will almost always discern a hard-headed politician who knows perfectly well how to set his goals and to craft strategies for achieving them.... The problem for us is not that the goals of Middle Eastern leaders are impenetrable; most of the time they are quite transparent. The problem is simply that these goals are not the ones that we want them to have."
The latter half of the book contains several excellent chapters on Islam--particularly on the concept of jihad and on the role of women in Islamic culture--that reveal the religion's diversity. It is a cliché, of course, to say that after reading a certain book you will never be able to think of its subject in quite the same way again, but it is also the truth concerning Between Memory and Desire and the Middle East. This book is strongly recommended to anybody who wants to know more about the region and its history than can be fit into a 30-second sound bite on the evening news. [via]