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Book Notes

ISSUE:  Summer 2008


For the People: American Populist Movements from the Revolution to the 1850s, by Ronald P. Formisano. North Carolina, December 2007. $35

In September 2007, a USA Today/Gallup poll revealed that nearly 57% of 1,010 respondents felt that the dismal performance of the two major parties indicated the need for a new third party. But the “spoiler” role of Ross Perot and Ralph Nader has made many Americans doubtful that a third party would pull enough votes to win. In the first of two projected volumes, Formisano traces the history of third parties that arose from popular protest during the first eighty years or so of the US. He considers how female, evangelical, and working-class activism mixed elements of progressive reform to broaden popular participation in politics while at the same time provoking a reactionary impulse to preserve an imagined past. Indeed, the development of a concept of “popular sovereignty,” famously expressed in the preamble of the Constitution, enabled populist movements to challenge an assortment of foes: creditors, Freemasons, papists, slaveholders, foreigners, feudal landlords, saloonkeepers, and scheming politicians. Unfortunately, co-optation by the major parties, crippling factionalism, and sometimes their very successes rendered these populist movements virtually defunct after a short time. Perhaps this sobering conclusion should serve as a reminder of how difficult the task can be of building a successful grassroots movement outside the two major parties.

—Sean Nalty

Burying the Dead but Not the Past: Ladies’ Memorial Associations and the Lost Cause, by Caroline E. Janney. North Carolina, December 2007. $35

This study of Ladies’ Memorial Associations (LMAs) in Virginia traces their genesis during the Civil War to their eventual absorption by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the first decades of the twentieth century. Janney sheds light on a previously obscure part of southern women’s history. She shows that upper-class white southern women mobilized in large numbers to support the Confederate nation, engaging in civic life to a degree unthinkable before that time. Women, while maintaining traditional gender roles, participated in public activities, such as raising funds to support the troops, producing clothes, and mourning the dead. While other historians have thought this public involvement of women ended with the war, Janney’s analysis of the records of five Virginia LMAs convincingly demonstrates that women continued to participate in a civic role after the fall of the Confederacy, primarily through their insistence upon overseeing the burial, mourning, and memorialization of the Confederate war dead. These women wielded political power because mourning and burial of the dead continued the celebration of Confederate nationalism and led to the emergence of the Lost Cause ideology. The women of the LMAs used their gender to shield them from northern authorities during Reconstruction and thus were able to take a leading role that southern white males could not. Janney succeeds in showing how the LMAs served as a bridge between “the localized benevolent societies of the antebellum period” and the much more publicly active “women’s club movement of the late nineteenth century,” and how these women shaped the memory of the Civil War in the South.

—Peter Luebke

Troubled Waters: Steamboat Disasters, River Improvements, and American Public Policy, 1821–1860, by Paul F. Paskoff. Louisiana, December 2007. $48

“Steamboats had made St. Louis,” writes Paul Paskoff; “[o]n the night of May 17, 1849, they almost destroyed it.” What began as a fire aboard the White Cloud soon spread to other ships, leaving a stretch of the mighty Mississippi engulfed in flames. After a loss of nearly 418 buildings and twenty human lives, the authorities finally suppressed the fire and restored order to the city. Events like the fire, argues Paskoff, led to greater federal regulation of steamboat operation, culminating in the Inspection Act of 1852. Contrary to other historical accounts that argue the that federal regulation was absent in the years before the Civil War, this study stresses the gradual growth of the federal government in financing internal improvements, such as using the US Army Corps of Engineers to remove snags and other hazards on the Mississippi and detailing specific standards for steamboat boiler construction. Most impressively, Paskoff sifted through records of over 1,200 wrecks, 600 steamboat engine packets, and 2,300 spending projects to analyze the effectiveness of federal river and harbor improvement legislation in the four decades preceding the Civil War. His conclusions reveal that “the failure of antebellum political leaders to grasp the magnitude of the civil works projects before them is understandable, if only because nothing in their experience had prepared them for thinking on that scale.” Through this important contribution to the literature on the growth of the American state, Paskoff has performed a great service to historians of the Early Republic and the field of American political development.

—Sean Nalty

Writing the Map of Anglo-Saxon England: Essays in Cultural Geography, by Nicholas Howe. Yale, December 2007. $45

The evidence for almost anything in Anglo-Saxon England remains frustratingly scanty, damaged, confused, hard to interpret, and confounded by centuries of scholarship warped by politics. Understanding how speakers of Old English looked at things proves nearly impossible, yet the late Nicholas Howe has done it, at least in terms of space. He analyzes “the world as it was known and imagined by the English before AD 1100 or so and, more exactly, as it was written by them in both the vernacular and Latin.” Unlike us, they described geography more in words than in pictures. Howe describes how the early English saw their own past in the landscape and situated their present in relation to Rome. He finds their viewpoints in charters, which contain portions on boundaries meant to be walked. As one might expect, the Venerable Bede dominates every topic. Howe closes with the poem “Durham,” which describes an existing place that was central to the Anglo-Saxon sense of themselves as Romans, British, and English.

—Don Fry

Fiction & Poetry

The Kingdom of Ordinary Time: Poems, by Marie Howe. Norton, March 2008. $23.95

Marie Howe follows her haunting What the Living Do with the more tactile The Kingdom of Ordinary Time. The book’s title refers to two periods in Christian liturgical calendar: the weeks following Epiphany and the weeks following Pentecost. These are the times in which no major miracles are celebrated. Like the liturgical season, Howe’s poems examine the gaps between real life and stories of the miraculous. The speaker of “Prayer” mourns for a nameless “you” that has been lost, and must compete with “falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside” while “mystics say you are as close as my own breath.” This sense of loss and questions of faith mix with dark humor in other poems. In “Reading Ovid,” a wife imagines bringing revenge worthy of Greek gods upon her husband: “‘You know that hamburger you just / gobbled down with relish and mustard? It was your truck.’/ If only to watch understanding take his face like the swan-god took the girl.” Howe also imagines the biblical Mary in her more mundane moments as a woman who carries on with everyday tasks, while filled with a faith that bridges the space between the spiritual and the tangible. She says, “I saw it. / It was thing and spirit both: the real / world: evident, invisible.” It is this real world that the best of Howe’s poems bring to life.

—Demere Woolway

Everything Else in the World: Poems, by Stephen Dunn. Norton, March 2008. $13.95 paper

The fourteenth collection of poems from Pulitzer Prize–winner muses on topics ranging from love and friendship to sports and politics. The major risk and downfall of Everything Else in the World is the same as in Dunn’s previous books: abstractions on problems that rarely have any consequence beyond the amusing, a plain-spoken tone that becomes cumbersome rather than lightly conversational, and the predictable outcome of a safe narrative or meditation. Essentially, the biggest risk in Everything Else is safety. So when Dunn does break free of his poems’ safe musings, the effect is momentarily startling, but ultimately disappointing as he retreats again into the inevitability of the poem’s constructs. The speaker in “The Land of Is” (what a title!) emerges into a reverie on a symbolic Trojan horse: “I admit I placed it there, and love at dusk / to see the blackbirds ride its back / and the field of barley it overlooks / turn dark purple as night descends.” But at the end of the poem, Dunn admits, “I can’t muster the slightest impulse / to make it rear up, or run amok.” And that’s the crux of the poems: “helpless / before the tyranny of this / or that sufficient thing.” The world as it is, no pyrotechnics of language allowed, no surrealism permitted.

— Lilah Hegnauer

My Revolutions, by Hari Kunzru. Dutton, January 2008. $25.95

The protagonist of Kunzru’s third novel is reluctant to turn away from the people who love him, even if he is a fugitive throwback to the 1960s. Britain’s anti–Vietnam War movement is a dim memory for most, but it’s all coming back to the man who calls himself Mike Frame. On a trip to France with his wife, who is unaware of his radical past or even his real name, Frame catches a glimpse of Anna Addison, a former lover he thought had died decades earlier in a botched attack on the West German embassy in Copenhagen. Then an unsettling visit from the shadowy Miles Bridgeman threatens to expose Frame and destroy the comfortable new life he’s built. Frame races through a recapitulation of his ancient entanglement with Anna’s terror cell and the despair that dogged him when he fled underground. This headlong recollection is the novel’s principal drawback: too much action and too much emotion from that rebellious era are dumped on the reader in the form of summary. The narrative spends so much time in the past that the forward momentum of the present story is barely noticeable and, ultimately, Frame’s impulsive search for the newly resurfaced Anna seems an afterthought. The climax of the novel, in fact, is just one more of the self-indulgent narrator’s perpetual revolutions against family, against the ruling order, against indoctrination, and, finally, against rebellion itself.

—Clifford Garstang

Windcatcher: New and Selected Poems 1964–2006, by Breyten Breytenbach.
Harcourt, November 2007. $23

Windcatcher collects over four decades’ worth of Breytenbach’s poetry—during which time he spent seven years in a South African prison for high treason and many years in exile for opposing apartheid. The need to speak out against injustice is as central to his lyric as his life. He writes of landscapes where “the machine gun enlightens the way / and washes your feet / and places before you the bread and the wine,” where “Lorca lies with bullets seeding his body,” the “statue of liberation” standing, hooked to “electrodes.” The poems both witness and address the imperative act of witnessing. “I’m scared to close my eyes,” Breytenbach writes. “I don’t wish to live in the dark and still see what passes.” Imprisoned for words, he knows both their consequences and futility. “All vanity, all about him the barren word,” and “is the orifice of speech / indeed the birth-vault of dust?” Despite the brutality they expose, the poems are imagistic and musical. His descriptions of the world’s violence unfurl in that same world’s rhythms, cadences, and rhymes—Afrikaans, Spanish, and jail-house colloquialisms. “In the singing,” he writes, “is twined the endlessness of dying.” There is also loveliness to witness—new moons, duskfalls, small birds and great loves. This, too, is what “poetry completes / what history leaves out.” Some might say that the life Windcatcher springs from overshadows the work itself, but the poems are not autobiographical—there are many, ever-changing voices here. Breytenbach orders the poet to sing regardless of self and suffering. “All over man / is death and dust,” he writes. “And only in others he reverberates.”

—Honor Jones

Modern Life: Poems, by Matthea Harvey. Graywolf, October 2007. $14.00 paper

Harvey’s most compelling poems take place in a post–Bladerunner universe where emotions are indexed by emoticons. In the two sequences, “The Future of Terror” and “Terror of the Future,” life is a series of manic diversions short on resolution, with the navigator’s needles always pointing to “ask again later.” Harvey says that she searched the dictionary to find references for these two series, which are rough abecedariums where images dazzle in their odd assembly. Honed whimsy addresses future shock—a Robo Boy regards spilled foundation in his mother’s purse as liquid skin, Instant Baby Sister. Futuristic frameworks unite the relentless quirkiness of the references, the poems successfully point to concerns by avoiding them, and skillfully managed dramatic effects make the ordinary and extraordinary pregnant with anxiety-teasing implications.

—Karen Kevorkian

Little Boat, by Jean Valentine. Wesleyan, October 2007. $22.95

Valentine’s very brief and sparely written poems are weighty with the authority of inscribed experience and the risk-taking language that has served her work so fluently. Full of stringent economies and tantalizing erasures, the abstract infused with lines of exquisite precision, every word feels certain and every emotion justified. Narratives and phrases are fragmented, the whole feeling eggshell-fragile. The writer’s mind seems to move deliberately or spontaneously; dramatic action depicts consciousness in acts of self-observation. Seeming at times to transcribe dreams or record other moments when the known world yields to manifestations of another, the voice is an ecstatic one. Its metaphysical apprehensions are touchstones in personal dramas of error, guilt, and redemption that hint at weighty under stories inherent in these irresistible poems.

—Karen Kevorkian

Literary Studies

Praising It New: The Best of the New Criticism, edited by Garrick Davis, foreword by William Logan. Swallow, May 2008. $18.95 paper

Appearances to the contrary, this awkwardly titled collection is no exercise in cultural nostalgia. True, the New Criticism has not dominated professional study of Anglo-American literature since the mid-1970s, but its discourse still influences our habits of analysis and interpretation. Whether to explain creativity, comprehensive world-pictures, or hidden patterns of meaning, the New Critical mindset meticulously searches out, foregrounds, and clarifies textual reflexivity: the dense, resonant, and potentially unifying relation of part to whole. Choice and hierarchy of methods are discretionary, so too are ontology and perspective, both the reader’s and the writer’s. Along with the Chicago school, its equally painstaking but less versatile rival, the New Criticism anticipated several modes of structuralist system-building, and—in the US at least—helped provoke a postmodernist overreaction, which fetishizes slipperiness of language and poetic incoherence. Given our long-term disregard of the New Criticism, Davis’s compendium is especially welcome. Following William Logan’s lite foreword (originally published in VQR’s Spring 2008 issue), Davis provides richly informative, well argued, and elegantly styled introductions, head-notes, and annotations, as well as discriminating suggestions for further reading. His selection of specimen essays—all of them American—is unexceptionable, though some readers might prefer more examples of close reading, which is almost certainly the New Criticism’s most durable contribution.

—David Lee Rubin

The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology, edited by Edward Hirsch and Eavan Boland. Norton, March 2008. $35

This anthology of the sonnet covers five and a half centuries’ worth of history. Boland and Hirsch focus on ways that individual poets have made the sonnet their own by examining topics that go beyond their chronological sorting: The Sonnet in the Mirror (self-reflective sonnets about the sonnet), The Sonnet Goes to Different Lengths (meaningful variations on the fourteen-line standard), and The Sonnet Around the World. The editors each offer a short personal essay about the sonnet to open the book, and in Hirsch’s, he writes of being seventeen and the first sonnet that affected him, Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”: “I wanted to write a poem like Frost, a poem with a kind of massive American loneliness at the core … I’d still like to write that poem.” Boland writes of Patrick Kavanagh’s “Epic”: “when a marginal—in historical terms, at least—and powerless Irish poet looked for expression, what came to his aid was the swift-footed, fourteen-line strategy that had been to empires and loitered in courts … A great form can discover a poet just as often as a poet discovers a form.” This anthology is wide-ranging, inclusive, and contains several surprisingly good sonnets that have been infrequently read and anthologized.

—Lilah Hegnauer

Out of the Alleyway: Nakagami Kenji and the Poetics of Outcaste Fiction, by Eve Zimmerman. Harvard, January 2008. $39.95

In the mid-1970s, a powerful new voice arrived on the Japanese literary scene—that of Nakagami Kenji (1946–1992). His visceral and violent early stories revealed the underside of the Japanese economic miracle. His status as one of Japan’s untouchable caste, the burakumin, lent his stories a sharp edge as he confronted prejudice and made the plight of the buraku public. As Zimmerman demonstrates, “he belongs to a global community of writers who explore representations of difference.” Tracing Nakagami’s work from early fictions to later meditations on the meaning of literature in Japan, she argues that he began to use his fiction to work through some of the problems of modern Japanese literature, such as how to reconcile the very recent concept of literature with older forms of storytelling. She also contemplates his interactions with other Japanese literary figures, most importantly his friendship with Karatani Kjin, one of the foremost literary critics. With many thoughtful observations about both Nakagami and modern Japanese literature, this study achieves a superb level of clarity in analysis and prose. Zimmerman succeeds in showing why Nakagami’s work retains significance today, and hopefully it will also spark more scholarly attention towards this important author.

—Peter Luebke

A Web of Words: The Great Dialogue of Southern Literature, by Richard Gray.
Georgia, December 2007. $34.95

This book, based on the prestigious Lamar Memorial Lectures Gray delivered at Mercer University in 2006, galvanizes many of the most important theoretical and thematic issues of the literature of the US South. One of the leading figures in the field, Gray demonstrates an extraordinary facility with ideas and language and an idiosyncratic approach to southern literary works from colonial Virginia to contemporary Vietnamese-American Louisiana. Taking his organizing principle from Mikhail Bakhtin’s formulation of a “great dialogue” which links all literary works across space and time, Gray focuses on three topics of crucial importance to the southern tradition, in successive chapters: disaster, the pastoral, and intertextuality. The results of such an approach, which maintains a sense of tradition even as it pushes outward in search of new relationships, are surprising and occasionally stunning. Writers like Yusef Komunyakaa, Wendell Berry, and Lan Cao emerge as important speakers in an ongoing dialogue that includes such better-known southern figures as William Faulkner, the Nashville Agrarians, and Thomas Jefferson, while the South is situated both in historical, geographic space as well as transnational and often nonlinear time. Gray’s long chapters risk attenuating the force of his arguments at times, particularly in the early chapter on imagination and disaster, but generally his insights are so rich that the value of the trade-off is never in question.

—Robert Jackson

Counter-revolution of the Word: The Conservative Attack on Modern Poetry, 1945–1960, by Alan Filreis. North Carolina, December 2007. $40

In the 1920s and thirties, literary critics in the US were at war. In non-academic journals of sometimes considerable circulation, liberals and Marxists battled conservatives—the New Humanists and Southern Agrarians—using interpretations of literature as weapons. By the forties, as communism and fascism undermined left and right alike, debate narrowed and moved toward the center. A workable truce emerged between former Marxists (now New York Intellectuals) and former Southern Agrarians (now New Critics) who loved the same authors, read with similar goals, and published in the same journals. Both factions found jobs in the expanding university system, helped to enshrine modernist literature there, and profoundly recast English departments. This story—the story of the victors—is so familiar as to seem like the only one. Filreis arrays vast archival evidence to prove just how much has been neglected. Counter-revolution of the Word focuses on marginal figures, exhuming both the communist poets who languished after the war and the conservative figures who attacked not only them but also the centrist critics in the academy. The cold war reactionaries often conflated modernist aesthetics with communism and railed against both. The study emphasizes the use to which the fifties put the thirties: how, in two decades, traditional poetry went from being apolitical to reactionary, while modernism went from radical to mainstream. The chapters, wooly with research, favor anecdotes, twists, turns, qualifications, and exceptions over broad conclusions. This makes for occasionally slow going but proves that poetry has never been a particularly quiescent horse to hitch to politics’ cart.

—Eric Bennett

General Nonfiction

The Reluctant Communist: My Desertion, Court-Martial, and Forty-Year Imprisonment in North Korea, by Charles Robert Jenkins, with Jim Frederick. California, March 2008. $24.95

If the combination is possible, this little book is at once banal and mesmerizing. It is the first-person story (told through the pen of a Time magazine writer) of an American soldier who, in a fit of true stupidity, decided to desert his US Army unit by walking across the DMZ into North Korea in 1964. Today, he does not know what the North Korean regime thought of him, and that lack of information can serve as a metaphor for the darkness in which he was shrouded for the four decades he spent there. Jenkins’s very small-scale celebrity status, as one of a tiny number of foreigners in one of the world’s most repressed countries, won him a few material perks that were worthwhile only in the sense that famine and concentration camps came to describe the world around him. This account reminds us that totalitarian regimes are not content to marginalize citizens; such regimes also demand untold hours of indoctrination, and inflict the humiliations and stress of incessantly ritualized behavior. The bleakness for Jenkins was broken up only by his eventual marriage to one of the Japanese citizens kidnapped by North Koreans on Japanese soil (her mother, accosted with her, remains unaccounted for). His regular companions were three other American deserters. Only the regime’s unexpected release of some abductees back to Japan set in motion the liberation of Jenkins and his daughters in 2004. The star of most of the book seems to be not Jenkins but instead daily life in North Korea. But North Korea’s sheen disappears when a photo of Jenkins’s friends left behind reminds us that those individuals are, like most North Koreans themselves, still trapped there.

—Gerard Alexander

Beyond the Black Box: The Forensics of Airplane Crashes, by George Bibel. Johns Hopkins, December 2007. $30

Your airliner falls from the sky, and you perish, right? But statistically speaking, commercial planes rarely crash, and passengers seldom die. Bibel, professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of North Dakota, organizes this study of aircraft safety around crash site investigations, but mostly he talks about aircraft design, as complex a subject as you can imagine. Along the way, he provides a mini-education in mechanical engineering, explaining at great length and fascination the operative characteristics of metals, gasses and fluids, the human body and crash dummies, electricity including lightning, and how engineers think. He explains why you shouldn’t worry when the wingtips flex up to twenty-four feet and why your seat works better by deforming in an accident. In other words, most of what you know about crashes is wrong, and most of what he tells you is counterintuitive. Bibel takes responsibility for his readers’ understanding, constantly digressing to set out basic concepts, explaining how things catch fire, for example, and using similes based on everyday events and objects. So how do you survive when your plane does crash? Sit over the wing, keep your seatbelt fastened, and get out fast.

—Don Fry

Ringside: A Treasury of Boxing Reportage, by Budd Schulberg. Ivan R. Dee, November 2007. $16.95 paper

For those interested in professional boxing, Schulberg needs no introduction; his reportage and his person have been fixtures in the sport since the early 1940s. Coupled with his journalistic skill, Schulberg’s decades-long relationships with the sport’s most influential fighters, trainers, celebrities, and literati have made him a walking encyclopedia of the boxing world. Ringside is a collection of Schulberg’s writing handpicked by the author and spanning nearly sixty years. Hugh McIlvanney’s introduction illuminatingly places Schulberg’s writing within a tradition of literary interest in the sport exemplified by Hemingway and Mailer, but the longevity gestured towards in Ringside places him among more contemporary essayists—Joyce Carol Oates and Carlo Rotella among them—as well. While the historical perspective of Ringside is wide enough to cover boxing’s first international (and interracial) bare-knuckle prizefight in 1810 and the forgotten Jewish-American boxers from the 1930s, the book is truly rewarding for those more familiar with the fight scene of the late twentieth century. Schulberg’s insights into the technical abilities of fighters is such that they border on character sketches, and indeed it is the fluid exchange between technical style and personality that Schulberg pinpoints so consistently in portraits of fighters such as Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson, and Roy Jones Jr. Tellingly, Ringside rarely feels like an introduction to the world of the author, in spite of Schulberg’s numerous personal anecdotes. Rather, the book provides a tour through the historical pivot-points during the last fifty years of boxing—the rise of West Coast gyms, the wax and wane of Mafia influence, the transition to pay-per-view—through portraits of the sport’s most important figures both in and out of the ring.

—Evan W. Rhodes

The Chomsky Effect: A Radical Works Beyond the Ivory Tower, by Robert F. Barsky. MIT, October 2007. $29.95

This book should be read by anyone interested in the existing or potential role for public intellectuals in American society and in politics, particularly. Barsky, who has written previously on Chomsky’s work in linguistics and in political life, is clearly an admirer, an apologist, and a defender of Chomsky whether it concerns his role as a linguistic theorist, an interpreter of 9/11, or as a petition signer for a French author who questions the authenticity of the Holocaust story. Chomsky, one of the most important public intellectuals today, is worthy of a book devoted solely to his “effects” on others, whether these others are semanticists; Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan populist leader; American Jewish supporters of Israel’s actions affecting Palestinians; or punk-rock musicians, many who have adopted him as their intellectual patron saint. But those less interested in Chomsky himself than in the social and cultural dynamics that Barsky describes as the “Chomsky Effect” will find here a challenging set of questions about the role of universities, the media, and intellectuals in public life. Chomsky’s political commentary clearly extends beyond his disciplinary specialty, yet his work in linguistics provides one basis for his authority as a public intellectual. He is the obverse of the “mandarin” that he has depicted as the intellectual serving on behalf of dominant ideologies or power centers. He is a rare bird, challenging both academic specialization and academics engaged in public roles that question the power of the privileged and the powerful. Perhaps the best appraisal of Chomsky derives from Barsky’s inclusion of a critical review by Christopher Hitchens, which observes that to “time observation with thought so as to mate a decent level of abstraction with crucial happenings is a difficult problem. Noam Chomsky has attempted, as a volunteer, necessarily imperfectly, to shoulder this responsibility at a time of widespread betrayal of it.”

—Richard C. Collins

Sufism: The Formative Period, by Ahmet T. Karamustafa. California, July 2007. $60 cloth, $24.95 paper

Through a close textual scrutiny of the earliest sources, this study is a revisionist account of the formative period of the Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. According to Karamustafa, the Sufi tradition arose during the second and fourth centuries of Islam through an “inward reorientation” of the renunciant movement that preceded it and was widespread during the early Abbasid period. This inwardness led to a growing interest among proto-Sufis in esoteric knowledge, the relationship between sainthood and prophecy, descriptions of the states and stations on the Sufi path, the controversial concept of the spiritual elect, and an elaborate Sufi psychology. In working through the chronological development, the author situates Sufism in its historical milieu through selective focus on its individual and seminal proponents. Regionally, it was Baghdad which formed the center to which all proto-Sufi activity converged and from where it spread to various Islamic lands. By the tenth century, Sufism had established itself as an acceptable form of Islamic piety, more admired and mainstream than has been posited so far. The rise of Sufi communities around individual masters and of specialized Sufi literature that marks its emergence as an academic science during this period provides clear evidence in this regard. Drawing and building extensively upon the findings of his predecessors, the author’s meticulous reading of the sources never loses sight of the big picture. Along the way Karamustafa provides a fine account of Sufism’s social status and its relationship with other Islamic sciences, namely law and theology, during these formative years.

—Syed Rizwan Zamir


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