Tag Archives: nonfiction

Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace In A Time of Peril

Our Last Best Chance
Author: King Abdullah II of Jordan
Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Inc.: New York, 2011

It seems oddly prophetic that Jordan’s King Abdullah II published his first book when he did. Our Last Best Chance, a memoir pressing the need for peace in his region of the world, was released just as Tunisia’s revolutionary uprising blazed a trail for the Arab Spring of 2011—-a wave of citizen protests washing across the Middle East, the full implications of which remain frustratingly veiled to many.

From Adolf Hitler’s Mein Kampf to Bill Clinton’s My Life, books authored by state leaders usually get published while they are not in the position of power for which they’re known. This trend makes Abdullah’s book all the more intriguing—-Our Last Best Chance was written and published just over 10 years into his reign.

Quirks of the author’s chronology and timing aside, Our Last Best Chance tells the story of a man deeply devoted not only to his country, but to peace and stability throughout the Middle East. For someone with extensive transatlantic military training, Abdullah is an adamant pacifist and progressive—-in many ways the ideal 21st-century monarch.

Abdullah’s commitment to securing peace for his people and civilians everywhere permeates his text. At times, this passion results in non-thrilling, almost sedative circumlocution and repetition of narrative. But his narrative accurately conveys how much he wants to achieve peace among his neighbors, an admirable trait for someone in such a position of influence throughout the region.

The still-unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict bookends Abdullah’s story, in particular the many failed talks for peace that have taken place in the last several decades. Jordan’s close proximity to the conflict makes the issue a priority for Abdullah. The Palestinian people have been wrongly denied their rights to statehood and peaceful existence for more than half a century, and Israel has never quite understood that throughout the several conferences that have taken place.

The Israel-Palestine problem is no doubt complex and divisive; even Abdullah isn’t immune from making a politically colorless commentary. He puts forth his position on the two-state solution to Palestinian independence so frequently that sometimes it’s tempting to visualize a blue-faced Congressman rambling upon a wooden crate on a street corner in days of yore.

But at the same time, it’s difficult to become irritated with Abdullah.

He is a wise and respectable leader who consistently acts in the interests of his people. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has had a vast impact on Muslims around the world seeking the protection of Jerusalem. He remains one of the very few leaders in the world who will avoid war as a solution to problems in favor of face-to-face diplomacy and peaceful resolutions. He also has a clearer, more moderate view on terrorism and al-Qaida than many higher-ups on Capitol Hill do. He is aware that the present day may be the last window of opportunity Arab nations have to secure peace and security for the future.

All of these things make King Abdullah an authoritative voice on the Middle East and its place in this world—a place that for some Americans is still shrouded in mystery and shrouds of smoke from 9/11. It would be wise for anyone to heed his words.

But with the radical changes in leadership across the region resulting from the Arab Spring revolutions, who knows what will happen next?


— Samantha Berkhead


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You Are What You Speak: Grammar Grouches, Language Laws, and the Politics of Identity

Author: Robert Lane Greene
Publisher: Delacourte Press: New York, 2010
It’s plausible to argue that lingual differences have caused more discrimination, conflict and cultural controversy throughout history than race or religion ever were. From the Hindi-Urdu bloodshed in India to the Balkan Wars, history shows that tolerance for different languages both within and without national borders is hard to find.

Robert Lane Greene, an international journalist, speaker of nine languages and M.Phil from Oxford University, takes on several interlocking topics and forges them together to show why certain people speak the way they do.

For the average nonfiction author, synthesizing millennia of politics, history and economics (among many other unlikely factors) into a simple explanation of contemporary language would be a daunting task. Yet Greene’s linguistic elucidations never become muddled or obtuse. That alone makes the book a marvel, even if the reader somehow finds nothing else about this book interesting.

You Are What You Speak not only gives a didactic presentation of the history of today’s languages; the book also explores the various schools of thought centered around language. The number of viewpoints on language may even surpass that of actual spoken languages themselves.

Some speakers of a given language even discriminate against speakers of the exact same language for not speaking or writing well enough for their own lofty standards.

At the lowest levels, these “sticklers,” as Greene semi-affectionately names them, cherish their grammatical and syntactical education so dearly that to see anyone else butcher the language hits as hard as a stab in the heart. In fact, some readers of the book may grimace at the sight of each occurrence of the serial comma Greene insists upon in his writing.

At the highest levels, sticklers become autocratic or dictatorial rulers bent on creating a nation-state with one language to be utilized by all.

Yet these sticklers of language and grammar fanatics–even such notables as E.B. White and George Orwell–convinced their language is falling apart, forget one very important point Greene proves again and again–languages never decline or worsen. They evolve and change constantly at the same rate its speakers do. A language is not what a minority of stagnant prescriptivists say it should be for the rest of time–it is made up of the words coming from those speaking it every day of their lives. It is, as Greene says, a cloud and not a box.

You Are What You Speak is at once anecdotal and evidential, educational and engaging. Greene gives a fascinating perspective on the way each individual ought to look at language.

As Maurice Druon, permanent secretary of the French Academy, said: “Lack of respect for language reveals a lack of respect for everything.”

–Samantha Berkhead

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