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Although these two titles are in the 'Ideas of the Modern World' series (alongside titles on Captalism and anti-Capitalism, Communism, Democracy, Fascism and Feminism), the books show how the two related concepts link the modern world back to anti-rational passions that have haunted mankind for centuries.
Both books convey information in accessible prose. They are laid out clearly and spaciously, each page consisting of a column of text supported by historical and contemporary illustrations, including many colour photographs. Key ideas and episodes are summarised in tinted boxes, and each has useful annexes in the form of glossaries, time lines and lists of further resources. Both authors start by explaining the background to their topics before illustrating issues with wide-ranging geographical and historical instances.
The controversial nature of the content is handled cautiously. Tames disputes the view that nationalism is a natural or common sense impulse, but might have been more critical of the evasive distinction between nationalism and patriotism. Woolf provides a very timely antidote to the conflation of fundamentalism with Islam by foregrounding the role played by American Christians in recent outbreaks of religious extremism. Perhaps a chapter on non-religious forms of fundamentalism would have helped to establish that dangerously restricted thinking is not confined to those convinced that they speak for god.
Both books are highly recommended for critical reading. They provide a useful resource for augmenting work with more immediate sources such as newspapers, TV and websites.