A prominent literary editor once told me that a good reviewer did not have to like every book that he read, but that he absolutely had to have the capacity to like every book. In this spirit, I make a habit of opening a new book with the greatest optimism and eagerness, convinced that I’ll enjoy both the process of reading it and the comparative chore of writing the review itself.
It doesn’t always come to pass, of course. Fortunately, most books I’ve reviewed have been fascinating and well-written. A minority have turned out to be well-conceived and reasonably well-executed, but significantly flawed in logic or perspective (of course, in some ways these are more fun to review, since they offer more room for argument). But only one book so far has made me want to give up and put it away, and this before I had read even a third of it. To clarify, it’s not an atrocious book at all, but rather one that again and again refuses to rise to its own potential. And that can be a more painful experience than it sounds.
Hooked (and how could you not be)? Then by all means, read on…
Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World
By John Freely
(Alfred A. Knopf; 303 pages; $27.95)
Review published in the San Francisco Chronicle (March 22, 2009)
After nearly eight years of conflict in the Middle East and Central Asia, it is hard to say that the American public is much more knowledgeable about the Islamic world than before the war began.