Sayyid Qutb: The Life and Legacy of a Radical Islamic Intellectual

James Toth, Author
James Toth. Oxford Univ., $35 (400p) ISBN 978-0-19-979088-3
Reviewed on: 02/11/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
Toth, an anthropologist who has lived in Egypt and studied Egyptian culture, and is currently an advisor at the new Abu Dhabi campus of New York University, has written a holistic, comprehensive biography of the controversial man considered to be the father of modern Islamic extremism. While other biographers have focused on Qutb’s more incendiary works, Toth reviews most of Qutb’s catalogue of extensive writings, including early poetry and fiction, chronologically, revealing how Qutb’s views evolved in a natural and dynamic way. Readers coming to this book convinced of Qutb’s infamy will be surprised to find themselves likely agreeing with, or being swayed by, some of Qutb’s views. Further, Qutb’s views, as laid out by Toth, make sense, focusing on improving Muslims and the Muslim world. Qutb did advocate violence, but only after other options were exhausted—and not exclusively. Toth avoids the trap of automatic, simplistic condemnation and instead unveils the vexing, evolutionary and ultimately fascinating mind of Qutb. The book is a surprising and rounded read. (Apr.)