What We Are Reading Today: Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

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Updated 16 January 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Mediocre by Ijeoma Oluo

From the author of the New York Times bestseller So You Want to Talk About Race, a history of white male America and a scathing indictment of what it has cost us.
After the election of Donald Trump, and the escalation of white male rage and increased hostility toward immigrants that came with him, New York Times-bestselling author Ijeoma Oluo found herself in conversation with Americans around the country, pondering one central question: How did we get here?
Oluo answers that question by pinpointing white men’s deliberate efforts to subvert women, people of color, and the disenfranchised. Through research and interviews, Oluo investigates the backstory of America’s growth, from immigrant migration to our national ethos around ingenuity, from the shaping of economic policy to the protection of sociopolitical movements that fortify male power. In the end, she shows how white men have long maintained a stranglehold on leadership and sorely undermined the pursuit of happiness for all, according to a review at goodreads.com.


What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

Updated 25 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: The Virus in the Age of Madness by Bernard-Henri Lévy

In The Virus in the Age of Madness, world-renowned philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy interrogates the many meanings and metaphors we have assigned to the pandemic — and what they tell us about ourselves.

With medical mysteries, rising death tolls, and conspiracy theories beamed minute by minute through the vast web universe, the coronavirus pandemic has irrevocably altered societies around the world. 

Drawing on the philosophical tradition from Plato and Aristotle to Lacan and Foucault, Lévy asks uncomfortable questions about reality and mythology. He rejects the idea that the virus is a warning from nature, the inevitable result of global capitalism; he troubles the heroic status of doctors, asking us to think critically about the loci of authority and power; he challenges the panicked polarization that dominates online discourse. 

Lucid, incisive, and always original, Lévy takes a bird’s-eye view of the most consequential historical event of our time and proposes a way to defend human society from threats to our collective future.


What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Updated 23 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Religion, Identity and Power: Turkey and the Balkans in the Twenty-First Century

Author: Ahmet Erdi Ozturk

This recently published book explores, from a historical perspective, Turkey’s current political maneuvers and religious leverages in the Balkans under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. It presents Albania, Bulgaria and North Macedonia as case studies of Turkey using soft and hard policy instruments in the region.

Author Ahmet Erdi Ozturk, an associate professor at London Metropolitan University and Marie Sklodowska-Curie fellow at Coventry University in the UK and the German Institute for Global and Area Studies, wrote the book after a study in several Balkan countries that took more than three years to complete and included interviews with almost 130 high-ranking individuals.

It suggests that Turkey insistently interferes in Balkan politics using religion, state power and imaginary identities, dubbed by some as neo-Ottomanism, and that this presence gradually becomes a threat to the secularism and sovereignty of the countries it targets.

The book, published by Edinburgh University Press, not only aids understanding of Turkish-Balkan diplomatic relations, but also the complex relationship between the regime in Ankara under Erdogan and the Muslim communities in the three countries.

Beyond that, it is about more than just Turkey and the Balkans; it also deepens our understanding of how religion can be used as a form of soft power in global affairs. It examines a number of political parties, for example Besa in Macedonia, that are linked to the regime in Ankara and the ways in which they interact with Turkish state apparatus.

The underlying strategy behind the construction of new mosques across the Balkans as a way to turn these countries toward Turkey rather than West is also examined in detail.
 


What We Are Reading Today: Outliers; The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Updated 22 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Outliers; The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers: The Story of Success is the third nonfiction book written by Malcolm Gladwell. 

Generally well received by critics, Outliers was considered more personal than Gladwell’s other works, and some reviews commented on how much Outliers felt like an autobiography. 

In Outliers, Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. 

Gladwell takes readers on an intellectual journey through the world of “outliers” — the best and the brightest, the most famous and the most successful.

Gladwell argues that success is tightly married to opportunity and time on task. 

He asks the question: What makes high-achievers different? His answer is that people pay too much attention to what successful people are like, and too little attention to where they are from: That is, their culture, their family, their generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing. 

Along the way, he explains the secrets of software billionaires, what it takes to be a great soccer player, why Asians are good at math, and what made the Beatles the greatest rock band.


What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Updated 20 February 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Painting by Numbers by Diana Seave Greenwald

Painting by Numbers presents a groundbreaking blend of art historical and social scientific methods to chart, for the first time, the sheer scale of 19th-century artistic production.
With new quantitative evidence for more than 500,000 works of art, Diana Seave Greenwald provides fresh insights into the 19th century, and the extent to which art historians have focused on a limited — and potentially biased — sample of artwork from that time.
She addresses long-standing questions about the effects of industrialization, gender, and empire on the art world, and she models more expansive approaches for studying art history in the age of the digital humanities, says a review on the Princeton University Press website.
Examining art in France, the US, and the UK, Greenwald features datasets created from indices and exhibition catalogs that — to date — have been used primarily as finding aids.
From this body of information, she reveals the importance of access to the countryside for painters showing images of nature at the Paris Salon, the ways in which time-consuming domestic responsibilities pushed women artists in the US to work in lower-prestige genres.

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Bestselling new book tells story of Europe’s forgotten Muslims

Updated 19 February 2021

Bestselling new book tells story of Europe’s forgotten Muslims

  • “Minarets in the Mountains” highlights continent’s “indigenous Muslim heritage,” Hussain said
  • It is among Amazon’s bestselling travel books on pre-sales alone

LONDON: “Minarets in the Mountains” traces the roots of Europe’s little-known native Muslim populations, and in telling their story cuts to the heart of what it means to be a European and a Muslim in the 21st century.
Acclaimed travel writer Tharik Hussain made a name for himself covering Saudi Arabia’s hidden touristic treasures and tracing Britain’s ancient Islamic heritage, but his latest book tells a very different story.
He told Arab News that his new book is the very human tale of his family holiday across the Balkans — a fun and light-hearted trip taken with his wife and children, but one that prompts readers to contemplate and confront longstanding myths about European and Muslim identity, and the relationship between the two.
“I wanted to bring to the attention of the mainstream the idea that Europe has an indigenous Muslim heritage,” Hussain said.
He and his family toured Serbia, Albania, North Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Kosovo, meeting locals and exploring the roots of Muslim populations that date back centuries.
But unlike his previous European trips, such as to the south of Spain to write about the long-lost Islamic civilization of what was then called Al-Andalus, this trip was very different — it explored a Muslim culture “that’s alive and thriving today,” Hussain said.


“The common, accepted wisdom is that Europe is Judeo-Christian with pagan elements. That’s a fallacy. Islam has been here in Europe since the very first century of Islam.”
He said indigenous Muslims in the Balkans have been “kept at arm’s length” by being labeled East European and thus excluded from the accepted European mainstream.
“Eastern Europe,” to Hussain, is nearly synonymous with “Other Europe.” This, he said, has contributed to the misconception that the continent does not have native and indigenous Muslim populations. Ultimately, his book dispels that myth.
“As a British Muslim, I’ve had to listen to political opportunists in veiled and sometimes explicit ways saying that Muslims aren’t a part of the European landscape and that there’s an ongoing invasion of Muslim refugees. That’s just utter nonsense. There have been Muslims in Europe since the seventh century,” he said.
“Minarets in the Mountains” will be released on June 21, but in pre-sales alone it has already become a bestselling travel book on Amazon.
Hussain attributes this success to a combination of public hunger for travel writers outside the mainstream, white, middle-class and male-dominated field, as well as an appetite for work that provides an insight into untold stories and novel takes on the continent’s history.
“I’m not denying that there’s a Judeo-Christian heritage, nor that there’s a pagan heritage. I’m saying this is also a history that needs to be brought forward and understood,” he said. “The book’s success shows that people are responding to that.”