The Force of Reason by Oriana Fallaci
publication date: 2006
I so much did not want to write a negative review of The Force of Reason because it is too easy. It’s like making fun of Nickelback. But, unfortunately, this book simply was not very good. I discovered it when I came across Brendan Bernhard’s review of it on the website for Powell’s Books. Bernhard describes the book as an attempt to answer certain questions about the influx of Muslims and the Islamic culture into Europe. In his review, Bernhard bestows moderate praise on the book and Oriana Fallaci, who was Italian (she died of breast cancer in late 2006). He describes the book as “riveting firsthand reportage” and calls Fallaci “a world-class journalist.” When I read the review, I thought, “Wow, this book must be really good and quite balanced for this reviewer to discuss it so positively even though it is about an obviously controversial topic. Sounds interesting.” It was not.
The book has many, many problems. In general, it is not convincing. First of all, Fallaci does not actually state any sort of thesis. It is clear she dislikes Muslims, but beyond that I don’t know what her point is. Second, even if she had a thesis, she doesn’t support it with any logic or, ironically, reason. Her only points are that Islam has a history of violent conquest and there are a lot of Muslims in Europe. What that proves, I don’t know.
Additionally, there are numerous small flaws with The Force of Reason. As Fallaci mentions at the beginning, she translated the English version and maintained “a punctuation and lexical choice and above all a sentence structure which reflects or repeats my way of writing in Italian.” This results in some awkward phrasing, such as the sentence: “That scream of pain which the Fra’ Accursios defined as impious, profane, indecent, abject, a book opposite to orthodox faith, an iniquity written on the Devil’s suggestion and infected by the most pernicious heresy.” And the simile: “like sardines in a can of sardines.”
The sardines line is not an anomaly: The Force of Reason contains several small-scale metaphors or explanations that simply are unsatisfactory. For example, in a passage that Fallaci describes as a letter to pacifists, Fallaci explains to the reader what war really is. Not only does war include human-on-human combat, it includes soccer and “when a lion pursues a gazelle” and “when weeds invade a cornfield.” Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t think the concept of “war” includes dinner on the African savannah and minor agricultural issues.
Also, the book is almost devoid of cites. If an author wants to convince me of something, especially using empirical evidence as Fallaci attempts to, I’m going to need some cites. In fact, the first cite does not arrive until page 19 and it is a cite to The Bible! (Fallaci often appeals to Christian readership and sensibilities, although she claims to be an atheist who detests Christianity.)
I did discover at least one valuable thing about the book. Toward the end, Fallaci graphically compares female genital mutilation to castration. That is an effective comparison because it emphasizes, especially to men, how life-changing and devastating such a procedure is. That is not a comparison I had thought of before, so I appreciated the observation.
As a caveat, I did not finish this book. I read the main text and then got about 15 pages into the 66-page epilogue before I gave up. Maybe the rest of the epilogue was inspiring and convincing and I just missed it.
1/6: couldn’t finish
Here are other reviews of the book: