The Week in Books

June 5, 2008

Last Witnesses: The Muggletonian History, 1652-1979 by William Lamont, emeritus professor of history, University of Sussex. Ashgate, £55.00, ISBN 9780754655329

"I don't think that verticality can provide an entirely satisfactory explanation of how and why this strange 17th-century sect should have endured for three centuries, and then died: nor, for all those hundred boxes, can anyone now tell us what it may have felt like to be a Muggletonian ... nor perhaps (with apologies to Lamont) why non-Muggletonians should care."

Patrick Collinson, London Review of Books

The Possibility of Knowledge by Quassim Cassam, Knightbridge professor of philosophy, University of Cambridge. Oxford University Press, £.50, ISBN 9780199208319

"Cassam's book illustrates how far you can get without any specialist science, by drawing unexpected implications from familiar features of cognition. He may have no good rationale for insisting that philosophy must abjure science, but it is still impressive to see how much he can achieve with one hand tied behind his back."

David Papineau, The Times Literary Supplement

The Black Death: An Intimate History of the Plague by John Hatcher, professor of economics and social history, University of Cambridge. Orion Books, £20.00, ISBN 9780297844754

"Scenes ... based on the terms of contemporary religious debate show the strength of Hatcher's dramatic method. Just occasionally, though, you wonder where he has got his evidence from. He says, for example, that the English victory at Crecy in August 1346 was eagerly discussed ... This seems to suggest an interest in current events, a communication network, and a robust sense of patriotism more typical of the newspaper age than the lifestyle of a feudal serf."

John Carey, The Sunday Times

Strange Fruit: Why Both Sides Are Wrong in the Race Debate by Kenan Malik, senior visiting fellow in the department of political, international and policy studies, University of Surrey. Oneworld, £18.99, ISBN 9781851685882

"(Malik) wants to insist that, unless 'race' corresponds to absolute boundaries, it is a useless and damaging concept. But to deny what everybody knows and to swap the word race for something less politically charged like 'group' is just an act of self-denial and certainly no more accurate than the dreaded 'r' word."

Mark Pagel, Prospect

The Five Front War: The Better Way to Fight Global Jihad by Daniel Byman, director, Centre for Peace and Security Studies, Georgetown University, and senior fellow in foreign policy, Brookings Institution. Wiley, £13.99, ISBN 9780471788348

"Byman makes the valid but neglected point that in the Muslim world, al-Qaeda's propaganda war has been far more effective than that of the US ... What he cannot supply is just what message the US should be disseminating to alienated young Muslims, aside from 'going negative' about al-Qaeda; nor does he suggest how the US is to find the superior and knowledgeable bureaucrats he hopes for."

Ahmed Rashid, The New York Review of Books.

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