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Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0231701044
ISBN-10: 0231701047
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Editorial Reviews


This rich and carefully researched biography sets Qutb for the first time in his Egyptian context, rescuing him from caricature without whitewashing his radicalism. It is no small achievement.

(The Economist)

[A] comprehensive overview of Qutb's life and writings.

(Joshua Sinai Washington Times)

Fascinating details emerge in this book.... Anyone interested in the evolution ofIslamism in the 20th century should read it.

(Marc Lynch The Atlantic)

The first truly comprehensive biography.

(Samuel Helfront Jewish Review of Books)

An exquisite intellectual biography.

(Youssef Aboul-Enein Small Wars Journal)

[An] excellent intellectual biography.

(Bruce Maddy-Weitzman Bustan: The Middle East Book Review 1900-01-00)

John Calvert greatly increases our knowledge about Qutb, situating him in intellectual context -- and does so without losing his balance. While the book is quite detailed, it should still be welcomed by a very broad audience indeed.

(Nathan J. Brown Review of Middle East Studies 1900-01-00)


Given that Sayyid Qutb is taught on a large (and increasing) number of campuses, and given that he has already been introduced to the public in best-selling books, such as Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower, the very publication of a Qutb biography should attract considerable interest. This book not only constitutes what is likely to remain the figure's definitive biography but also offers crucial new insights on the post-1954 history of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. We are dealing with a rare book that is likely to become a classic in the field of political Islam. Outstanding.

(Thomas Hegghammer, associate, Initiative on Religion in International Affairs, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press (August 12, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231701047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231701044
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,073,650 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By William Garrison Jr. VINE VOICE on June 13, 2011
Format: Hardcover
"Sayyid Qutb and the Origins of Radical Islamism" by John Calvert. (From another's review in the Spring 2011 "Middle East Journal"). "Undoubtedly, the Egyptian radical Sayyid Qutb (1906-66) has been one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Islamism. It is therefore surprising that despite the frequency and volume of references made to him, this is the first comprehensive biography of him in English. ... Calvert's study is as much a political history of modern Egypt through the prism of Sayyid Qutb as it is a biography of the man and a study of his thought..... Qutb's radical articulation of Islamist ideology during his final years usually receives the most attention, but Calvert places such thinking within the wider context of Qutb's life as a whole and details how it evolved to this final incarnation. Qutb laid the foundations for Islamism's most extreme manifestations following his execution. Still, Calvert is careful to observe that Qutb himself would have been horrified by the Islamist excommunication of self-proclaimed Muslims and the resulting wanton slaughter and indifference to noncombatant status witnessed today. True, Qutb popularized the condemnation of Muslims in the culture and civilization around him as living in a state of "ignorance" or "barbarism" comparable to the pre-Islamic era. However, he never characterized them as "infidels" as his successors did. Likewise, though he was clearly a dissenter who endorsed revolutionary violence, his radicalism was not stagnant but was a position he embraced gradually following years of systematic abuse. Civil servant, literary critic, revolutionary icon, Qur'anic commentator, persecuted dissenter, feted martyr: Calvert's biography captures the many faces of Qutb...."
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I found this to be a well-researched, well-written, sympathetic but balanced biography. I appreciated the (remarkably voluminous) detailed notes, references and authorities at the end of the book. It has been informative and helpful to me in understanding the development of ideas and attitudes that underlie the intractable problems posed for the West by Radical Islamism. I enjoyed reading it and recommend it highly. It's also a stimulating introduction in serious discussion groups.
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We must read this book to understand the real meaning of Islamism. The war against ISIS isn't a war against terrorism, but a war of ideologies. The U.S. administrations, Republican or Democrat, don't understand this, so they are repeating in Irak the same mistakes they commited in Vietnam.
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