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Thursday, November 10, 2011

In the Land of Invisible Women, by Qanta Ahmed, MD

Doctor Ahmed grew up in Britain, and trained in the US to become a doctor. When her visa to remain in the States was denied, she decided to go practice medicine in Saudi Arabia. She assumed that because she was Muslim, she would fit right in. This book recounts her experiences living and working in a country where women are not allowed to drive, where women are required to be completely veiled whenever in mixed society, where it has been suggested that women shouldn't even wear seat belts because the belts define the woman's cleavage, where married couples carry their marriage licenses with them when they go out in public because they may need to show proof that they're married.

I really liked this book. I appreciated the half-insider, half-outsider view that the author brought to her subject. She is a Muslim with Western, liberal views. She valued some of the ways in which people in the Kingdom strive to live according to Islam, and denounced some of the other ways. She records her disgust at the gleeful reactions of her Saudi coworkers to the news of 9/11, and to their reflexive anti-Semitism. She discusses Islamic principles at length, concluding that anti-Semitism and Wahabiism are not in line with a true understanding of Islam.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in gaining a deeper understanding of Saudi Arabia, women in Saudi Arabia, or Islam.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The History of the World in 6 Glasses, by Tom Standage

The six glasses are: beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea, and Coke. I thought the title probably over-promised the contents of the book, but I was mistaken. The author does touch on the history of the world, through the lens of the six glasses.

The first three drinks contain alcohol, and the second three contain caffeine. The account of the first two relies a bit more on conjecture, given the age of the drinks and the scarcer historical documentation from those time periods.

I learned a lot about the drinks themselves, as well as about history. For instance, a naval officer by the name of Grogram made the first proto-cocktail when he commanded that sailors should drink their ration of rum mixed with some citrus juice and sugar. This concoction became known as 'grog' and gave the Brits an edge over the French navy, thanks to the presence of vitamin c in grog.

I gained a greater appreciation for coffee-houses and their association with scientific advances and free speech. Charles II tried to shut down coffee-houses when he ascended to the throne because they had provided a venue where the citizens could voice their opinions freely. He did not succeed. Coffee-houses were called 'Penny Universities,' because for the price of a cup of coffee you could gain an education (scientists would lecture there). Let's raise a cup of coffee!

I also gained a greater appreciation for Coke and its association with American democracy. Did you know that Coke went around the world on the tails of the American military during World War II? Coke was exempted from sugar rationing during the war because it was seen as vital to the war effort. Did you know the Arab world boycotted Coke for 30 years after Coke opened a bottling facility in Israel? Let's raise a bottle of Coke!

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in history or in drinking.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, by Jeremiah Burroughs

I had tried a few times before to read this book, but bogged down somewhere in the first half of the book. This time I completed it. Yay!

This book offers an explanation of what Christian contentment is, many reasons why Christian contentment is excellent, and many reasons why discontent is a terrible evil. It convicted and comforted me. It does not move me as much as Richard Sibbes's 'Glorious Freedom,' but it was a worthwhile read, and I would highly recommend it to all my Christian brothers and sisters.