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Book Review


 Nutshell Notes series

Roraback, Amanda. Iran in a Nutshell, 1st ed. (Santa Monica: Enisen Publishing, 2006). 81 pp, $7.95.

Roraback, Amanda. Iraq in a Nutshell, 2nd ed. (Santa Monica: Enisen Publishing, 2004). 60 pp, $7.95.

Roraback, Amanda. Israel-Palestine in a Nutshell, 1st ed. (Santa Monica: Enisen Publishing, 2004). 136 pp, $9.95.

Roraback, Amanda. Pakistan in a Nutshell, 2nd ed. (Santa Monica: Enisen Publishing, 2004). 61 pp, $7.95.

Roraback, Amanda. Islam in a Nutshell, 2nd ed. (Santa Monica: Enisen Publishing, 2004). 60 pp, $7.95.


     Amanda Roraback has written a series of books on the Middle East that covers each country's history from antiquity to the present as well as the origins, growth, spread, and current issues of Islam.  Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan are treated in three separate books (while cleverly, Israel and Palestine are in the same book--Palestine on one side, flip the book over and Israel is on the other).  The books are short and quite easy to read.  In each, the table of contents is meticulously detailed for easy reference.  There is a separate section for maps as well as side bars.  Each book has a full page on "Facts and Figures" for quick reference.  This includes population, import/export products and trade partners, breakdown of religious affiliations and languages, as well as GDP per capita.  This alone makes the series a good investment for the classroom.

     The books do not take a stand on any issues nor do they argue a point.  They are reference books.  Each book gives a very detailed history of the nation or religion and concludes with the present day.  Important names, places, and events are in bold print for quick reference.  Islam has a glossary at the end and also contains sidebars dedicated to the translation of biblical names, Qur'an rules of conduct, and the ninety-nine names for God.  Iraq includes a timeline of "The Road to War--UN Resolutions" allowing students to see at a glance how the U.S. became involved in today's Iraqi War.

     There is a tremendous amount of detailed material in the books.  For instance, Islam traces each caliph, from the "Rightly Guided Caliphs" through the dynasties, Turks,  Crusades, Mamelukes, Mongols, and Ottoman Empire.  Each splinter group is discussed.  The reasons for the splits, the rulers, and various offshoots are covered in great detail.  This information can aid student understanding of the tension in Iraq today.  Iraq begins in antiquity and includes sidebars covering Iraq in the Bible, the UN vote for war and the list of the rotating presidency complete with religious affiliation (Sunni, Shiite, and Sunni Kurd) and dates.  Iran also begins in antiquity and details the dynasties and various rulers through the Ottoman Empire.

     Roraback then details the "Great Game" of imperialism between Russia and Great Britain in the 19th century during which many Middle Eastern countries became pawns and were subsequently taken over by one of the great powers.  In Iran, she explains, weak leaders borrowed heavily to support lavish lifestyles and gave British companies monopolies over the tobacco and booming oil businesses.  She then explains the work toward modernization/westernization under Reza Shah Pahlevi: Sharia law was abolished, the chador was prohibited, and "the new Iranian man" was visualized based on Western ideals, dress, and customs.  Roraback then traces Iran's position in both world wars and the Cold War culminating in the Islamic Revolution in the 1970s to rid Iran of western ideals bringing the chador and Sharia law back. Iran also contains the Iranian Constitution and a section on nuclear weapons.  There is a detailed section titled, "Building a Nuclear Bomb".  I am not sure why the author goes into such detail as to give the reader a list of ingredients and steps in the processing of uranium and plutonium except to say that "reprocessing rather than disposing spent fuel allows poorer countries to extract all the energy they can from their uranium supply and reduces nuclear waste".(54-55). Each book, where applicable, contains a section on Islam, oil, and/or terrorism.

     The Nutshell Notes series is best suited for the high school student.  A classroom set would give students the basic information and start them on the path to deeper research.  The series has great breadth on Middle Eastern countries that allows it to fit quite well into any World History curriculum. The series can also be effective for teachers whose knowledge of the Middle East is minimal by pointing them in the direction they may need to go for additional research.



Adele Dalesandro-Haug
Wheeling High School


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