Archive for the ‘Reference’ Category

During our tour of the Levant (Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan), we shared movies and books we loved. Here is the list.


  • The Lemon Tree, Sandy Tolan

Starred Review* To see in human scale the tragic collision of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, Tolan focuses on one small stone house in Ramla–once an Arab community but now Jewish. Built in 1936 by an Arab family but acquired by a Jewish family after the Israelis captured the city in 1948, this simple stone house has anchored for decades the hopes of both its displaced former owners and its new Jewish occupants. With remarkable sensitivity to both families’ grievances, Tolan chronicles the unlikely chain of events that in 1967 brought a long-dispossessed Palestinian son to the threshold of his former home, where he unexpectedly finds himself being welcomed by the daughter of Bulgarian Jewish immigrants. Though that visit exposes bitterly opposed interpretations of the past, it opens a real–albeit painful–dialogue about possibilities for the future. As he establishes the context for that dialogue, Tolan frankly details the interethnic hostilities that have scarred both families. Yet he also allows readers to see the courage of families sincerely trying to understand their enemy. Only such courage has made possible the surprising conversion of the contested stone house into a kindergarten for Arab children and a center for Jewish-Arab coexistence. What has been achieved in one small stone building remains fragile in a land where peacemaking looks increasingly futile. But Tolan opens the prospect of a new beginning in a concluding account of how Jewish and Arab children have together planted seeds salvaged from one desiccated lemon tree planted long ago behind one stone house. A much-needed antidote to the cynicism of realpolitik. Bryce Christensen

  • From Beirut to Jerusalem, Tom Friedman

Friedman, who twice garnered the Pulitzer as a New York Times correspondent in Lebanon and Israel, further delineates the two countries in this provocative, absorbing memoir cum political and social analysis. A condensed, incisive history of the Middle East is proffered, as well as personal reflections on his 10-year sojourn: the issue of Friedman’s Jewishness in Beirut, the fact that he was the Times ‘s first Jewish reporter in Israel, the bombing of his apartment in Beirut by the PLO, which took the lives of his Lebanese news assistant’s children. A top-flight observer and interpreter, the author elucidates the complex religious factions obstructing Lebanese and Israeli politics; the agendas of various posturing, media-loving Arab and Israeli leaders; the perversity of daily life in “Wild West Beirut”; the wanton murder in Lebanon of U.S. marines and Palestinian refugees; America’s fascination with Israel; the waning romance between Israeli and American Jews; and the Palestinian intifada.

  • The Fugu Plan

If someone who is rich and powerful comes to you for a favor, you don’t persecute him – you help him. Having such a person indebted to you is a great insurance policy.

There was one nation that did treat the Jews as if they were powerful and rich. The Japanese never had much exposure to Jews, and knew very little about them. In 1919 Japan fought alongside the anti-Semitic White Russians against the Communists. At that time the White Russians introduced the Japanese to the book, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

The Japanese studied the book and, according to all accounts, naively believed its propaganda. Their reaction was immediate and forceful – they formulated a plan to encourage Jewish settlement and investment into Manchuria. People with such wealth and power as the Jews possess, the Japanese determined, are exactly the type of people with whom we want to do business!

The Japanese called their plan for Jewish settlement “The Fugu Plan.” The “fugu” is a highly poisonous blowfish. After the toxin-containing organs are painstakingly removed, it is used as a food in Japan, and is considered an exquisite delicacy. If it is not prepared carefully, however, its poison can kill a person.

The Japanese saw the Jews as a nation with highly valuable potential, but, as with the fugu, in order to take advantage of that potential, they had to be extremely careful. Otherwise, the Japanese thought, the plan would backfire and the Jews would annihilate Japan with their awesome power.

The Japanese were allies of the Nazis, yet they allowed thousands of European refugees – including the entire Mirrer Yeshivah – to enter Shanghai and Kobe during World War II. They welcomed these Jews into their country, not because they bore any great love for the Jews, but because they believed that Jews had access to enormous resources and amazingly influential power, which could greatly benefit Japan.

If anti-Semites truly believe that Jews rule the world, why don’t they all relate to Jews like the Japanese did?

The fact that Jews are generally treated as outcasts proves that people do not really believe that Jews are anywhere near as wealthy or powerful as they claim. It proves that anti-Semites do not take their own propaganda seriously.

  • The Desert Queen, Janet Wallach

To Sir Mark Sykes, the pre-WWI British Foreign Office Arabist, “that damned fool,” Miss Bell, created an “uproar” wherever she went in the Middle East and was “the terror of the desert.” Three social seasons were all a young lady of good family was allotted to snare a husband. Gertrude Bell (1868-1926) had thrice failed and received the consolation prize, a trip to Teheran to visit her uncle, the British envoy there. After that, she could not be kept close to the dank family manse in Northumbria but was drawn to the sun-drenched Middle East. Dominated even there by her Victorian father, head of a family-owned ironworks, she was denied permission to marry a moneyless diplomat. She refused?to her later regret?a married lover in the military and assuaged her disappointment by pressing British interests in Arab lands east of Suez, becoming in effect the maker of postwar Iraq. The first woman to earn a first-class degree in modern history at Oxford, she wrote seven influential books on the Middle East and, following WWI, was named oriental secretary to the British High Commission in Iraq. Not just another book about an eccentric lady traveler, this colorful, romantic biography tells of a woman with an inexhaustible passion for place that did not always substitute successfully for continuing heartbreak. Despite some maudlin passages, Wallach, coauthor with her husband, John Wallach, of Arafat, vividly evokes a memorable personality.

  • Discovery, Wallace Stegner

An undistinguished writing professor at Stanford when he was commissioned by the Arabian American Oil Company (Aramco) in 1955 to write “an approved history of the oil venture’s early days,” future Pulitzer Prize-winner Stegner (1909-1993) makes a fabulous tale out of what could have been a sterile (or sycophantic) history of the early years of Middle Eastern oil drilling, replete with Texas wildcatters, British nobility, Bedouin raiders and Saudi princes. After initial negotiations between Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud and the Standard Oil Company of California, which had an odd hunch that oil might be found in King Saud’s barren, backward land, Stegner chronicles the construction of the first wells (which, strangely, produced disappointing yields), the political and corporate skirmishes (with occasional bombing) that followed, World War II and the end of the “frontier” in 1945. Though one wonders at the verisimilitude of the writing (many accounts fit quite neatly into Stegner’s world, a folksy blend of Mark Twain and Ogden Nash where “a breed loud, tough, strong, rowdy, good-natured, and superbly adapted” safeguard the outposts of civilization), a notable lack of corporate boosterism (which apparently led Aramco to bury it) gives the account a veneer of honesty. Published for the first time in the U.S., this account should prove fascinating for historians, industry insiders and anyone who wants a closer look at the source of their last fill-up.

  • The Charged Border, Where Whales and Humans Meet, Jim Nollman

(The title I was given was “The Cove”. This is what I found that matched the description.)

After a dolphin roundup that has darkened a cove with blood in the Sea of Japan, we follow a diver below the ocean as he cuts through a giant net surrounding hundreds of dolphins awaiting certain death and sets them free. We watch as severely depressed patients are bundled into dry suits and dropped into the Irish Sea to swim with wild dolphins, which strengthens their will to live almost immediately. In the Arctic the author makes music, luring gray whales trapped under the ice to safety. Off the coast of Alaska, a pod of humpback whales sleep, bobbing in the waves, the warts and bumps along their snouts reflecting the light of the occluded sun. Near British Columbia we swim with an orca mother whose captive daughter – seven times pregnant and without a living offspring – is the property of a San Diego oceanarium. In The Charged Border we follow Jim Nollman’s adventures in four of the world’s oceans to study whale and dolphin vocalizations. From these encounters we glimpse an ancient common heritage and evidence of cetacean self-awareness, a reality that promises a new environmental consciousness for us all.

  • Devil in White City, Erik Larsen

Not long after Jack the Ripper haunted the ill-lit streets of 1888 London, H.H. Holmes (born Herman Webster Mudgett) dispatched somewhere between 27 and 200 people, mostly single young women, in the churning new metropolis of Chicago; many of the murders occurred during (and exploited) the city’s finest moment, the World’s Fair of 1893. Larson’s breathtaking new history is a novelistic yet wholly factual account of the fair and the mass murderer who lurked within it. Bestselling author Larson (Isaac’s Storm) strikes a fine balance between the planning and execution of the vast fair and Holmes’s relentless, ghastly activities. The passages about Holmes are compelling and aptly claustrophobic; readers will be glad for the frequent escapes to the relative sanity of Holmes’s co-star, architect and fair overseer Daniel Hudson Burnham, who managed the thousands of workers and engineers who pulled the sprawling fair together 0n an astonishingly tight two-year schedule. A natural charlatan, Holmes exploited the inability of authorities to coordinate, creating a small commercial empire entirely on unpaid debts and constructing a personal cadaver-disposal system. This is, in effect, the nonfiction Alienist, or a sort of companion, which might be called Homicide, to Emile Durkheim’s Suicide. However, rather than anomie, Larson is most interested in industriousness and the new opportunities for mayhem afforded by the advent of widespread public anonymity. This book is everything popular history should be, meticulously recreating a rich, pre-automobile America on the cusp of modernity, in which the sale of “articulated” corpses was a semi-respectable trade and serial killers could go well-nigh unnoticed.

  • Dancing Girls of Lahore, Louise Brown

*Starred Review* Heera Mandi, the ancient red-light district of the Punjabi city of Lahore, Pakistan, is as distant as the moon from most Western experience, yet sociologist Brown renders an intimate portrait of one family there that is compelling in its strangeness and its humanity. Shuttling for months at a time between Heera Mandi and her middle-class world of Birmingham, England, Brown details the goings-on of Maha, her five children, and the people and places in their tiny universe. Maha, a fading singer-dancer-courtesan in her midthirties, must now depend on her eldest daughters to join the trade to help shore up the family’s shrinking finances: Nisha, 14, who would literally rather die than come of age; Nena, 12, who appears to embrace the business with enthusiasm; and Ariba, 11, a dark-skinned pariah who hovers like a ghost over the household. To that end, Maha is busy making arrangements to sell Nena’s virginity to a wealthy sheikh in Dubai. The family might have been spared this dilemma with help from Maha’s husband, Adnan, but he is too drug addled and distracted with his other wife, Mumtaz, to care. Brown is unsparing in relating the casual violence Maha and her children inflict on one another, and that befalls them from their circumstances, but she also can’t help but be invested in their futures. Readers of this excellent account will feel the same way.

  • Guns, Germs and Steel, Jared Diamond

Explaining what William McNeill called The Rise of the West has become the central problem in the study of global history. In Guns, Germs, and Steel Jared Diamond presents the biologist’s answer: geography, demography, and ecological happenstance. Diamond evenhandedly reviews human history on every continent since the Ice Age at a rate that emphasizes only the broadest movements of peoples and ideas. Yet his survey is binocular: one eye has the rather distant vision of the evolutionary biologist, while the other eye–and his heart–belongs to the people of New Guinea, where he has done field work for more than 30 years.

  • Diffusion of Innovations, Everett Rogers

Now in its fifth edition, Diffusion of Innovations is a classic work on the spread of new ideas. It has sold 30,000 copies in each edition and will continue to reach a huge academic audience.

In this renowned book, Everett M. Rogers, professor and chair of the Department of Communication & Journalism at the University of New Mexico, explains how new ideas spread via communication channels over time. Such innovations are initially perceived as uncertain and even risky. To overcome this uncertainty, most people seek out others like themselves who have already adopted the new idea. Thus the diffusion process consists of a few individuals who first adopt an innovation, then spread the word among their circle of acquaintances–a process which typically takes months or years. But there are exceptions: use of the Internet in the 1990s, for example, may have spread more rapidly than any other innovation in the history of humankind. Furthermore, the Internet is changing the very nature of diffusion by decreasing the importance of physical distance between people. The fifth edition addresses the spread of the Internet, and how it has transformed the way human beings communicate and adopt new ideas.

  • To the End of the Land, David Grossman

Acclaimed Israeli author Grossman serves up a powerful meditation on war, friendship, and family. Instead of celebrating her son Ofer’s discharge from the Israeli Army, Ora finds her life turned upside down and inside out when he reenlists and is sent back to the front for a major offensive. Unable to bear the thought of sitting alone waiting for the “notifiers” to bring her bad news, the recently separated Ora decides to hike in the Galilee, where she will be both anonymous and inaccessible. Joined by her estranged best friend and former lover Avram, a recluse who never recovered from the brutality he experienced as a POW during the Yom Kippur War, she narrates the story of her doomed marriage to Ilan and her often arduous journey as a mother. As the tension mounts, she talks compulsively about Ofer, as if telling his story will protect him and keep him alive for both herself and for Avram, the biological father he has never met. As Ora and Avram travel back and forth through time via shared memories, the toll exacted by living in a land and among a people constantly at war is excruciatingly evident. Grossman, whose own son was killed during the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict, writes directly from the heart in this scorching antiwar novel.

  • Come, Tell Me How You Live, Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie’s memoirs about her travels to Syria and Iraq in the 1930s with her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan Agatha Christie was already well known as a crime writer when she accompanied her husband, Max Mallowan, to Syria and Iraq in the 1930s. She took enormous interest in all his excavations, and when friends asked what her strange life was like, she decided to answer their questions in this delightful book. First published in 1946, Come, Tell Me How You Live is now reissued in B format. It gives a charming picture of Agatha Christie herself, and is, as Jacquetta Hawkes concludes in her Introduction, ‘a pure pleasure to read’.



  • Letters to Juliet (Vanessa Redgrave’s last movie)

When a young American travels to the city of Verona, home of the star-crossed lover Juliet Capulet of Romeo and Juliet fame, she joins a group of volunteers who respond to letters to Juliet seeking advice about love. After answering one letter dated 1951, she inspires its author to travel to Italy in search of her long-lost love and sets off a chain of events that will bring a love into both their lives unlike anything they ever imagined.

  • Bottle Shock

“Bottle Shock” explores the birth of California’s Napa wine industry, and their triumph over the French at the 1976 Paris Tastings.

  • There Will be Blood

A sprawling epic about family, greed, corruption, and the pursuit of the American dream. Set in the booming West coast oil fields at the turn of the 20th century, “There Will Be Blood” follows the rise of rugged prospector Daniel Plainview (Day-Lewis) who becomes an independent oilman after hitting it rich with the strike of a lifetime. Written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, the film is inspired by Upton Sinclair’s novel “Oil!”

  • No Country for Old Men

Violence and mayhem ensue after a hunter stumbles upon some dead bodies, a stash of heroin and more than $2 million in cash near the Rio Grande. (Ya gotta see it, if you haven’t, evp)

  • Hannibal Lector Movie – Control Room

A documentary on perception of the United States’s war with Iraq, with an emphasis on Al Jazeera’s coverage.

  • The Syrian Bride

A woman who is stuck in the middle: between her traditional, burka-wearing mother and her modern, cigarette-smoking daughter; between her pro-Syrian father and her expatriate brothers; between the past and the future.

  • The Lemon Tree

Salma Zidane lives in a tiny Palestinian village on the West Bank. She is 45 years old and a widow. Her children have left home, and she is alone. When the Israeli minister of defense builds a house on the other side of the green line, Selma’s lemon trees come to the attention of his bodyguards. Her trees are a security risk. They can hide terrorists and impede the bodyguards in their work. In any case, these Palestinian lemon trees simply get in the way of the powerful Minister’s superior security needs. The lemon trees were planted by Salma’s family many generations ago–they are synonymous with Salma’s family history. Salma gets herself a lawyer. But Ziad Daud is up against a battery of clever military lawyers, all of whom are covered by the top brass. It’s an unfair battle, that isn’t made any easier when the 45-year-old widow falls in love with her lawyer, a divorcee ten years her junior–a scandal as far as her Palestinian neighbors are concerned. On the other side of the grove, Salma’s struggle to keep her trees has not gone unnoticed. The defence minister’s wife, who has become more and more lonely and unhappy as her husband’s political career has blossomed, feels increasingly drawn to Salma as the unfair battle between her husband and their Palestinian neighbors drags on. An invisible bond connects these two very different women who find themselves on the brink of a new phase in their lives.

  • A View from a Grain of Sand

Combining verite footage, interviews and rare archival material, VIEW FROM A GRAIN OF SAND is a harrowing, thought-provoking, yet intimate portrait of Afghan women’s history over the last 30 years – from the rule of King Zahir Shah in the 1960’s to the current Hamid Karzai government. Told through the eyes of three Afghan women – a doctor, a teacher and women’s rights activist -this documentary tells the story of how war, international interference and the rise of political Islam has stripped Afghan women of rights and freedom. Together with rarely seen archival footage, their powerful stories provide illuminating context for Afghanistan’s current situation and the ongoing battle women face to gain even basic human rights.

  • The Seventh Seal

In medieval Sweden a knight returns from war only to find a ravaged homeland. He meets up with a group of travelling players and eventually confronts the embodiment of death with whom he engages in a game of chess.

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