Ballantine, 464 pp., $15 (paper)
I imagine many people shrugging off this surprisingly accessible and engaging history of fundamentalism in the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religions as so much academic working of the obvious: Religious nuts aren't that hard to figure, they're simply primitive, intolerant, fear-led boobs. But I was immediately struck not only by Armstrong's academic thoroughness, but by how much, way too much, I did not know about the history of this conflict, one that still splashes red across the front pages of our newspapers on an almost daily basis. Armstrong delineates fundamentalist issues with an acuity and sensitivity that simultaneously informs, inspires, and chills the soul. Her argument is that modernity is as fundamentalist in its mindset as any Ayatollah, that modernity has been aggressively dismissive of those unable or unwilling to abide by its narrow paradigms. And where there is coercion and force there is resistance. Armstrong amply persuades that the rationalists will not be able to think away the needs of the soul and the fundamentalists cannot pray away facts.
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