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Review: Climate of Fear by Wole Soyinka

October 21, 2011

Title: Climate of Fear
Author: Soyinka, Wole
Length: 135 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Politics, Sociology
Publisher / Year: Profile Books/ 2004
Source: Second hand shop in Johannesburg.
Rating: 4/5
Why I Read It: It sounded different and interesting.
Date Read: 08/10/11

This book came out of a number of Reith Lectures Soyinka made in 2004 and discusses the climate of fear around the world, and how it arose. With chapters titled ‘A Changing Mask of Fear’, ‘Of Power and Freedom’, ‘Rhetoric that Binds and Blinds’, ‘The Quest for Dignity’, and ‘I am Right; You are Dead!’ he explores the various aspects of fear and the way we live with it daily at present in various forms. He talks about its rise and what we can do to diminish it.

What Soyinka does a great job of in this book is showing how 9/11 didn’t change the world for most people, it really only awakened Americans to the fear that much of the world had already been living with through dictators or events like Lockerbie, the Air India bombing, and other massive acts of terrorism that have happened around the world previously. He in no way detracts from that event (9/11) but rather takes readers back through other events to highlight how it was a trend before that to show that it’s not one event but the way of the world that we need to work against to try to solve in order to keep things like it from happening again.

Much of the climate of fear that Soyinka discusses he says comes from what he terms as quasi-states. He says on page 27 as part of his attempt at defining them:

[...] that elusive entity that may cover the full gamut of ideologies and religions, contends for power but is not defined by physical boundaries that identify the sovereign state.

And much of the impetus behind the fear is the thirst for power that these quasi-states are after. Power is as hard to define as freedom but he does well at outlining a lot of the facets of both and discusses how power is often exercised as the withholding or removing of freedom from others. This is what causes the fear that we face – not knowing when our freedoms may be taken away, including even dignity. And when everything else has been taken away, people will do almost anything to at the very least keep their dignity.

The book is well researched and Soyinka uses numerous examples to show the power of rhetoric and how it harms. His end recommendation is for dialogue among groups, and for dignity to be allowed to each and every person and community. He argues his points well and provides a well-reasoned and balanced book that would be accesible to anyone, no matter where in the world they live, as he uses examples from around the world.

Interesting and different read for sure. I would recommend it to anyone interested in current events and politics, or in reading a different take on the fear and terrorism we deal with daily.

17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 21, 2011 8:57 am

    This does sound interesting and different. Good review!

  2. October 21, 2011 9:57 am

    From your review, this book will really read good. I’ll check my local bookshop if they have it on the shelf. Well done.

    • October 30, 2011 9:31 am

      Yes I hope you can find a copy Joseph. Would love to hear your thoughts on it.

  3. October 21, 2011 11:43 am

    Not sure that this one is for me, but you do make some interesting points and statements about it in your review. Glad to hear that it was a great read for you. Though I am not going to be reading it, I can think of a few people who I think would like it!

    • October 30, 2011 9:31 am

      Yes, no book can work for everyone zibilee :) Glad you found some points of interest.

  4. October 21, 2011 4:11 pm

    This is an author whose name I feel like I’m stumbling across too often now to avoid the signs: I need to add his name to my list of Must-Reads for next year. The question is…which one. But that will be fun to explore.

    • October 30, 2011 9:31 am

      Yes, he has such a wide range of books BuriedInPrint, so I bet you can find something good :) His plays are what he is most known for I think.

  5. October 21, 2011 6:21 pm

    This sounds like a great October read!!

  6. October 25, 2011 7:11 am

    Definitely one for my wish list! :D

  7. October 26, 2011 8:22 am

    I’ve not heard this one. I’ll be looking out for it.

  8. November 3, 2011 4:05 am

    Sounds like vintage Soyinka. He has been consistent on his views of quasi-states, forcing people into certain boundaries when they really have nothing in common and how risky it all is. And as an exceptional man of letters himself, he always points out how rhetoric can harm. I’m always comforted by his words though I’m sure his intent is otherwise. It just really nice and essential that he so eloquently voice his opinions!

    • November 3, 2011 12:53 pm

      I really must read more by Soyinka, what I have read of his nonfiction has been so fantastic. I believe I have another by him on my tbr so I’m looking forward to that. And I agree Kinna, so important that he can voice his opinions so well!

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