September 15, 2004


Jimmy Beck

Fabulous review. I was very curious about this book after his excerpt (in The Chronicle? NYRB?). Anyway, thank you.

jacky treehorn

Ditto, good review. Mr. Harris makes excellent points that are alas, ahead of the times at best and impossible to bring about at worst. Still a great reasoner and writer.

Jacky Treehorn


Thanks for this review. I found Harris' arguments as described here quite interesting, although I take exception to his view that politics and poverty aren't factors in terrorism. Osama Bin Laden and other Al-Qaida leaders may well be rich and well-educated, but the people blowing themselves up daily for various causes aren't scions to oil fortunes.


Great Review. But I have to agree with MG that many of the people lured into extreme thinking and who end up amounting to violent acts struggle with poverty. We see it here in the crime that occurs on our streets. But the amount of poverty in some of these places makes our tough streets look like middle class avenues. In the absence of religion, I suspect there would be other motivating factors to causing terror.


Greatly appreciate the review. I was wondering what others think about this book. I do, however, respectfully disagree with those who think Harris is on to something. His arguments exhibit a profound lack of sophistication; his evidence is incredibly selective and narrow; and his views are inconsistent. It's all a bit surprising for someone with a doctorate in philosophy. I figured he'd be far more rigorous in his argumentation. He leaves holes so wide you could drive trucks through them. (And, by the way, I'm an atheist, in case anyone is wondering.)

Having said that, I do believe that the book does serve to open discussions about religion, and in particular fundamentalism. This is an important step.

Michael Patrick Hughes

Although I appreciate the comments, I feel a few comments of my own are appropriate here.

In reviewing this book, I am trying to distill lengthy arguments into a few words, giving the "sense" of Harris' main points. Whether those few words are well-chosen or ill-chosen is best decided by reading Harris' book. The arguments he makes are lengthy and generally detailed further in the endnotes. I would definitely hesitiate to characterize "holes big enough to drive a truck through" based only on my condensations of his logic. Harris notes many factors that contribute to terrorism, including poverty, etc. His argument here should be read in its entirety.

That said, there are things in this book I agree with, and many things I do not. Again, I recommend that readers make up their minds by reading the book. When I say I think the book is important, it is precisly because of its attempt to bring this subject into the open, to discuss religion, and its implications in the 21st century, from a rational viewpoint.


Interesting review. Based on it, I agree with Michael--Harris' arguments as described seem dangerously simplistic. I've not read this book, but based on the description in the review, it strikes me as probably pretty bad and not likely to add much to the discussion. His assertions about how "Muslims" divide the world, for example, and references to Bernard Lewis, among other things, do not inspire confidence. (I am also an atheist, incidentally.)

On a related set of topics, I strongly recommend Mahmood Mamdani's excellent recent book, Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror.


As a follow up to Michael Patrick Hughes' comments (which I greatly appreciate), I just want to clarify that my problems with Harris' book are related directly to his book, and not to the way they are characterized in Michael's review. I should have been clearer about this. I do understand that Michael was indeed distilling Harris' arguments, and I think he does a fine job in doing so.

My comments were a brief, somehwat general summary of my own reaction to Harris' book, as well as to various articles on the same subject he has published in other print sources. I do believe that one can make strong, sophisticated arguments about the perils of faith, but I've always found that Harris simply never meets what I consider to be proper standards of argumentation, which, for me, makes it difficult to take his work seriously.

Still, a fine review, and please let me reiterate that I think Michael summarized and analyzed Harris' view quite well.

Michael Patrick Hughes

I appreciate Michael's follow-up comments, and did suspect his original comments came from a reading of the book, not my review.

I must respond to something Richard has stated here. My review should not give an impression that the concepts of the two realms of the world, the Realm of Islam and the Realm of War, are in any way original or coined by Sam Harris in this book.

"Dar al-Islam" (more commonly translated as the "Abode of Islam", or since Islam can mean peace, the "Abode of Peace"), and "Dar al-Harb" (the "Abode of War") are concepts that go back to the beginnings of Islam, and are part of the hadith. For a detailed history of the developments of these concepts, I would refer him to F.E. Peters' masterful historical and theological analysis of the three religions of Abraham, "The Monotheists, Vols. I & II," specifically Vol. I page 270.

I might also suggest, for an understanding of the conditions that led to the development of fundamentalism, Karen Armstrong's "The Battle for God.

Michael Patrick Hughes


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