Jihad in Islamic History: Doctrines and Practice

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Overview

"Michael Bonner's book is by far the best treatment of this important subject in English, and very useful to general historians of the Middle East."—Roy P. Mottahedeh, Harvard University

"This is an excellent and erudite contribution to the field that, due to Bonner's pleasant and clear style, is easily accessible to students and nonspecialists. The book's value lies in its contextualizing of the notion of jihad. It covers the entire Islamic era, tracing how the notion of jihad emerged and developed within a certain historical framework."—Rudolph Peters, University of Amsterdam, author of Jihad in Classical and Modern Islam: A Reader

"A fine contribution to the literature on jihad."—John Kelsay, Florida State University, author of Islam and War

"Jihad in Islamic History is a very helpful overview of the various appropriations of jihad and concepts of warfare and fighting in Islamic history, especially the early period. It is particularly good on the sources, their varying purposes, and the debates today over their validity in trying to explain the rise of Islam and early Islamic history in general. As the only major overview of jihad focusing on the premodern period, the study will stand alone."—Paul Heck, Georgetown University, author of The Construction of Knowledge in Islamic Civilization

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Editorial Reviews

Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies
Bonner has been very successful in preparing an introduction to the doctrine and practises of jihad in early Islamic history that can initiate students to the first period Islamic history and early interpretations of jihad. Moreover, there is also a useful commented bibliography at the end of each chapter.
— Michelangelo Guida
New York Review of Books - Ahmed Rashid
...short, incisive, and highly readable book...
New York Review of Books - Malise Ruthven
Viewing what has become an increasingly crowded field, [Bonner] points out that the word jihad has acquired different resonances for a wide variety of actors, from the Islamist radicals for whom it forms the heart of a militant ideology to mystical quietists who regard the 'greater jihad' as the struggle against the 'lower self' of baser human impulses.
Middle East Journal - David Cook
Bonner's Jihad in Islamic History is a first-class work that should be highly useful as an introduction to the basic issues and history of the subject, and despite its conciseness contains information interesting even for the more specialized scholar.
Religious Studies Review - Christopher Anzalone
Bonner . . . provides a cogent yet detailed historical survey of the concept and practice of jihad in Muslim societies. His book is a much-needed counter to the poorly researched or downright biased and alarmist cluster of publications that were quickly written and released after September 11, 2001. . . . The book is easily accessible to the nonspecialist, and is ideal for use in an upper-level undergraduate topics course in Middle Eastern and Islamic history or Islamic religious thought. Bonner's work is also a useful primer for specialists which does not sacrifice quality for brevity.
Speculum - Asma Afsaruddin
Michael Bonner brings to the subject a sober, forensic approach grounded in sound historiography and a firm grasp of primary sources. . . . The author is to be commended for having provided an accessible, broad historical survey of the mercurial term 'jihad' and its deployment over time. Both the specialist and the nonspecialist will benefit from this study. This slim book is not exhaustive in its approach, nor does it claim to be. But it asks all the right questions and broadly indicates the directions in which future scholarship on jihad as both an institution and a multivalent concept may fruitfully venture.
Muslim News - Muhammad Khan
[T]his is a very interesting and useful little book both from the perspective of history and the emergence of Islamic thought and culture. It also includes a useful bibliography and index. The author should be congratulated for his thoughtful and stimulating contribution to the contemporary discourse on the Islamic concept of Jihad, warfare and peace.
Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa - Lewis Brownstein
At a time in history when there is a crucial struggle for the soul of the Islamic world, Bonner has provided a road map for scholars and students alike attempting to make sense of the myriad of competing claims. This is a welcome addition to the literature on jihad indeed.
Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies - Michelangelo Guida
Bonner has been very successful in preparing an introduction to the doctrine and practises of jihad in early Islamic history that can initiate students to the first period Islamic history and early interpretations of jihad. Moreover, there is also a useful commented bibliography at the end of each chapter.
From the Publisher
"...short, incisive, and highly readable book..."—Ahmed Rashid, New York Review of Books

"Viewing what has become an increasingly crowded field, [Bonner] points out that the word jihad has acquired different resonances for a wide variety of actors, from the Islamist radicals for whom it forms the heart of a militant ideology to mystical quietists who regard the 'greater jihad' as the struggle against the 'lower self' of baser human impulses."—Malise Ruthven, New York Review of Books

"Bonner's Jihad in Islamic History is a first-class work that should be highly useful as an introduction to the basic issues and history of the subject, and despite its conciseness contains information interesting even for the more specialized scholar."—David Cook, Middle East Journal

"Bonner . . . provides a cogent yet detailed historical survey of the concept and practice of jihad in Muslim societies. His book is a much-needed counter to the poorly researched or downright biased and alarmist cluster of publications that were quickly written and released after September 11, 2001. . . . The book is easily accessible to the nonspecialist, and is ideal for use in an upper-level undergraduate topics course in Middle Eastern and Islamic history or Islamic religious thought. Bonner's work is also a useful primer for specialists which does not sacrifice quality for brevity."—Christopher Anzalone, Religious Studies Review

"Michael Bonner brings to the subject a sober, forensic approach grounded in sound historiography and a firm grasp of primary sources. . . . The author is to be commended for having provided an accessible, broad historical survey of the mercurial term 'jihad' and its deployment over time. Both the specialist and the nonspecialist will benefit from this study. This slim book is not exhaustive in its approach, nor does it claim to be. But it asks all the right questions and broadly indicates the directions in which future scholarship on jihad as both an institution and a multivalent concept may fruitfully venture."—Asma Afsaruddin, Speculum

"[T]his is a very interesting and useful little book both from the perspective of history and the emergence of Islamic thought and culture. It also includes a useful bibliography and index. The author should be congratulated for his thoughtful and stimulating contribution to the contemporary discourse on the Islamic concept of Jihad, warfare and peace."—Muhammad Khan, Muslim News

"At a time in history when there is a crucial struggle for the soul of the Islamic world, Bonner has provided a road map for scholars and students alike attempting to make sense of the myriad of competing claims. This is a welcome addition to the literature on jihad indeed."—Lewis Brownstein, Ph.D., Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa

"Bonner has been very successful in preparing an introduction to the doctrine and practises of jihad in early Islamic history that can initiate students to the first period Islamic history and early interpretations of jihad. Moreover, there is also a useful commented bibliography at the end of each chapter."—Michelangelo Guida, Turkish Journal of Islamic Studies

New York Review of Books
Viewing what has become an increasingly crowded field, [Bonner] points out that the word jihad has acquired different resonances for a wide variety of actors, from the Islamist radicals for whom it forms the heart of a militant ideology to mystical quietists who regard the 'greater jihad' as the struggle against the 'lower self' of baser human impulses.
— Malise Ruthven
Middle East Journal
Bonner's Jihad in Islamic History is a first-class work that should be highly useful as an introduction to the basic issues and history of the subject, and despite its conciseness contains information interesting even for the more specialized scholar.
— David Cook
Religious Studies Review
Bonner . . . provides a cogent yet detailed historical survey of the concept and practice of jihad in Muslim societies. His book is a much-needed counter to the poorly researched or downright biased and alarmist cluster of publications that were quickly written and released after September 11, 2001. . . . The book is easily accessible to the nonspecialist, and is ideal for use in an upper-level undergraduate topics course in Middle Eastern and Islamic history or Islamic religious thought. Bonner's work is also a useful primer for specialists which does not sacrifice quality for brevity.
— Christopher Anzalone
Speculum
Michael Bonner brings to the subject a sober, forensic approach grounded in sound historiography and a firm grasp of primary sources. . . . The author is to be commended for having provided an accessible, broad historical survey of the mercurial term 'jihad' and its deployment over time. Both the specialist and the nonspecialist will benefit from this study. This slim book is not exhaustive in its approach, nor does it claim to be. But it asks all the right questions and broadly indicates the directions in which future scholarship on jihad as both an institution and a multivalent concept may fruitfully venture.
— Asma Afsaruddin
Muslim News
[T]his is a very interesting and useful little book both from the perspective of history and the emergence of Islamic thought and culture. It also includes a useful bibliography and index. The author should be congratulated for his thoughtful and stimulating contribution to the contemporary discourse on the Islamic concept of Jihad, warfare and peace.
— Muhammad Khan
Association for the Study of the Middle East and Africa
At a time in history when there is a crucial struggle for the soul of the Islamic world, Bonner has provided a road map for scholars and students alike attempting to make sense of the myriad of competing claims. This is a welcome addition to the literature on jihad indeed.
— Lewis Brownstein, Ph.D.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691125749
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2006
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.76 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Bonner is Professor of Medieval Islamic History at the University of Michigan. "Jihad in Islamic History" originally appeared in French as "Le Jihad: origines, interpretations, combats". Bonner is also the author of "Aristocratic Violence and Holy War: Studies in the Jihad and the Arab-Byzantine Frontier" and "Arab-Byzantine Relations in Early Islamic Times".

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Read an Excerpt

Jihad in Islamic History

Doctrines and Practice
By Michael Bonner

Princeton University Press

Copyright © 2006 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-691-12574-0


Chapter One

Introduction

What Is Jihad?

In the debates over Islam taking place today, no principle is invoked more often than jihad. Jihad is often understood as the very heart of contemporary radical Islamist ideology. By a sort of metonymy, it can refer to the radical Islamist groups themselves. Some observers associate jihad with attachment to local values and resistance against the homogenizing trends of globalization. For others, jihad represents a universalist, globalizing force of its own: among these there is a wide spectrum of views. At one end of this spectrum, anti-Islamic polemicists use jihad as proof of Islam's innate violence and its incompatibility with civilized norms. At the other end of the spectrum, some writers insist that jihad has little or nothing to do with externally directed violence. Instead, they declare jihad to be a defensive principle, or else to be utterly pacific, inward-directed, and the basis of the true meaning of Islam which, they say, is peace.

Thus Islam, through jihad, equals violence and war; or else, through jihad, it equals peace. Now surely it is not desirable, or even possible, to reduce so many complex societies and polities,covering such broad extents of time and space, to any single governing principle. And in fact, not all contemporary writers view the matter in such stark terms. Many do share, however, an assumption of nearly total continuity, in Islam, between practice and norm and between history and doctrine. And it is still not uncommon to see Islam described as an unchanging essence or a historical cause. The jihad then conveniently provides a key to understanding that essence or cause, and so we are told that Islam is fundamentally "about" war, that it "accounts for" the otherwise inexplicable suicidal activity of certain individuals, that it "explains" the occurrence of wars in history, and so on.

None of this so far has told us what jihad actually is, beyond its tremendous resonance in present and past. Is it an ideology that favors violence? A political means of mass mobilization? A spiritual principle of motivation for individuals?

While we do not wish for this to be an argument over words alone, we cannot understand the doctrines or the historical phenomena without understanding the words as precisely as possible. The Arabic word jihad does not mean "holy war" or "just war." It literally means "striving." When followed by the modifying phrase fi sabil Allah, "in the path of God," or when-as often-his phrase is absent but assumed to be in force, jihad has the specific sense of fighting for the sake of God (whatever we understand that to mean). In addition, several other Arabic words are closely related to jihad in meaning and usage. These include ribat, which denotes pious activity, often related to warfare, and in many contexts seems to constitute a defensive counterpart to a more activist, offensive jihad. Ribat also refers to a type of building where this sort of defensive warfare can take place: a fortified place where garrisons of volunteers reside for extended periods of time while holding Islamic territory against the enemy. Ghazw, ghazwa, and ghaza' have to do with raiding (from which comes the French word razzia). Qital, or "fighting," at times conveys something similar to jihad/ ribat, at times not. Harb means "war" or "fighting," usually in a more neutral sense, carrying less ideological weight than the other terms. All these words, however, have wide semantic ranges and frequently overlap with one other. They also change with distance and time.

Jihad refers, first of all, to a body of legal doctrine. The comprehensive manuals of classical Islamic law usually include a section called Book of Jihad. Sometimes these sections have different names, such as Book of Siyar (law of war) or Book of Jizya (poll tax), but their contents are broadly similar. Likewise, most of the great compendia of Tradition (hadith; see chapter 3) contain a Book of Jihad, or something like it. Some Islamic jurists also wrote monographic works on jihad and the law of war. Not surprisingly, these jurists sometimes disagreed with each other. Some, but not all, of these disagreements correlated to the division of the Sunni Muslim legal universe into four classical schools (madhhabs), and of Islam as a whole into the sectarian groupings of Sunnis, Shi"is, Kharijis, and others. Like Islamic law in general, this doctrine of jihad was neither the product nor the expression of the Islamic State: it developed apart from that State, or else in uneasy coexistence with it. (This point will receive nuance in chapter 8.)

These treatments of jihad in manuals and other works of Islamic law usually combine various elements. A typical Book of Jihad includes the law governing the conduct of war, which covers treatment of nonbelligerents, division of spoils among the victors, and such matters. Declaration and cessation of hostilities are discussed, raising the question of what constitutes proper authority. A Book of Jihad will also include discussion of how the jihad derives from Scripture (the Quran) and the Example of the Prophet (the Sunna), or in other words, how the jihad has been commanded by God. There are often-specially in the hadith collections-rhetorical passages urging the believers to participate in the wars against the enemies of God. There is usually an exposition of the doctrine of martyrdom (see chapter 5), which is thus part of jihad. The list of topics is much longer, but this much can begin to give an idea of what the jihad of the jurists includes.

Jihad is also more than a set of legal doctrines. Historians of Islam often encounter it and try to understand its meaning and especially when they think about such things as motivation, mobilization, and political authority. For instance, regarding the earliest period of Islam, why did the Muslims of the first generations fight so effectively? What was the basis of their solidarity? How did they form their armies? Why did they assume the attitudes that they did toward their own commanders and rulers? For historians interested in such questions, it is impossible to study the historical manifestations of jihad apart from the legal doctrine, for several reasons. First, some-though far from all-of the historical narratives that are available to us regarding early Islam seem to have been formed by juridical perspectives, no doubt in part because many of the early Muslim historians were jurists themselves. Second, the doctrine of jihad had a role of its own in events, a role that increased over time (see chapter 8). And not only the doctrine, but also its exponents and champions: the jurists and scholars known collectively as the "learned," the 'ulama': many of these were protagonists in the ongoing drama of the jihad in several ways including, at critical junctures, their participation (both symbolic and physical) in the conduct of warfare (see chapter 7). Jihad, for the historian, is thus not only about clashes between religions, civilizations, and states but also about clashes among groups within Islamic societies. Equally important, jihad has never ceased changing, right down to our own day. If it ever had an original core, this has been experienced anew many times over.

Just War and Holy War

The concept of just war, bellum iustum, has a long history in the West. The medieval part of this history is particularly Christian, in part because of the emphasis on love (agapé, caritas) in Christian doctrine and the difficulties this created for Christian thinkers and political authorities in their conduct of war. Then, with the introduction of natural law theory into the law of war in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and with Europe's increasing domination of the seas, Western doctrines of just war came to prevail over both Christian and non-Christian states-whether they liked it or not-and their interactions in war and peace.

Now, it is possible to draw meaningful parallels between these Western doctrines of just war and the classical doctrine of jihad expressed by the Muslim jurists. However, there are also differences. For the most part, the Muslim jurists do not make the "justice" of any instance of jihad the term of their discussion. Likewise, the concept of holy war, at least as we use it now, derives from Christian doctrine and experience, especially relating to the Crusades. Scholars of the ancient Near East and the Hebrew scriptures have broadened the concept, and so too have anthropologists. This anthropological literature on holy war may help us to ask about the links between the jihad, as it first emerged, with warfare in Arabia before Islam. It may also help us to see the role of jihad in the conversion to Islam of other nomadic and tribal peoples, such as the Berbers in North Africa and the Turks in Central Asia. At the same time, we must remember that the Muslim jurists did not usually discuss these matters in these terms; for them any authentic instance of jihad was necessarily both holy and just. In the medieval Islamic world, there were philosophers who, unlike the jurists, were willing to foreground questions of justice and injustice in their discussions of warfare. They did this by adapting Islamic concepts into a Greek, mainly Platonic field of reference. The most important of these philosophers was the great al-Farabi (d. 950). Al-Farabi considers a range of situations in which wars may be considerered just or unjust. They are unjust if they serve a ruler's narrow, selfish purposes or if they are devoted solely to conquest and bloodshed. Just wars may, of course, be defensive, but they may also, under some circumstances, be offensive: what makes them just is their role in achieving the well-being of the "virtuous city," that association which we all need in order to attain happiness. Here al-Farabi uses not only the Arabic word harb (war) but also, on occasion, the word jihad, though not quite in the technical sense assigned to it by Islamic legal doctrine. It seems likely, all the same, that al-Farabi was trying to find a philosophical place for the juridical doctrine of jihad within his teachings regarding the virtuous city and its ruler, the Islamic philosopher-king.

We find a synthesis of juridical and philosophical views in the famous Muqaddima, or introduction to the study of history, of Ibn Khaldun (d. 1406). Ibn Khaldun begins his discussion of wars by saying that these "have always occurred in the world since God created it," naturally and unavoidably, because of men's desire for revenge and their need for self-defense. Ibn Khaldun then identifies four types of war. The first of these "usually occurs between neighboring tribes and competing families." The second is "war caused by hostility," whereby "savage nations living in the desert" attack their neighbors, solely with a view to seizing their property. These two types are "wars of outrage and sedition" (hurub baghy wa-fitna). The third type is "what the divine law calls jihad." The fourth consists of "dynastic wars against seceders and those who refuse obedience." Of these four types, "the first two are unjust and lawless," while the last two are "wars of jihad and justice" (hurub jihad wa-'adl). In this way, as Charles Butterworth remarked, Ibn Khaldun "distinguishes just war from jihad and allows neither to encompass the other."

The juridical discourse on jihad had incomparably more influence on intellectual life within premodern Muslim societies than did these philosophical discussions. The same applies to its influence over preaching, the popular imagination in general, and the running of the affairs of armies and states. Modern and contemporary Muslim thinkers, on the other hand, have had a great deal to say about justice and injustice in relation to the doctrine of jihad and war in general, but this takes us farther than we can go here.

Warfare and Jihad

We have seen that certain philosophical writers distinguished between, on the one hand, jihad, which they understood to be a part of the divine law of Islam, and, on the other hand, the phenomenon of warfare, which has occurred throughout history in all places inhabited by humans. In addition to this philosophical discourse, the premodern Islamic world was familiar with several other ways of speaking and writing about warfare, distinct from-though often related to-the practice and doctrine of jihad. Here we may briefly mention a few of these.

Islam arose in an environment where warfare-or at any rate, armed violence with some degree of organization and planning-was a characteristic of everyday life. Even if it often amounted to little more than livestock-rustling, its threat was never far away, especially in those regions of the Arabian peninsula that lay beyond the control of rulers and states. We see this in the great corpus of pre-Islamic poetry, our most vivid and extensive source of information about Arabia on the eve of Islam. Some of this poetry was devoted entirely to the joys and travails of fighting, especially in the poems collected afterward under the rubric of hamasa (valor). War also loomed large in the countless dirges composed in honor of its victims. And in the songs of praise that the poets recited in honor of their patrons, their kin, and themselves, martial valor usually topped the list of virtues, followed closely by generosity. In all these poems, war typically appears as something ordained by fate, unwelcome but necessary, often imposed by the obligation to seek revenge for wrongs done to one's kin. Sometimes we find a willingness to be the first aggressor, together with a grim enthusiasm for the activity of fighting itself: "Yea a son of war am I-continually do I heighten her blaze, and stir her up to burn whenever she is not yet kindled." Most often, however, this enthusiasm is tempered by patient endurance (sabr) in the face of the constant, lurking possibility of violent death, as well as the inevitability of death itself, which here is the extinguishing of the individual, the end of everything. Thus the old Arabic poems, together with the prose narratives that accompany them, express a heroic ideal, where the courage and endurance of a few individuals illuminate a dark, violent world.

Long after the arrival of Islam, this ancient heroic ethos continued to hold considerable power and attraction. So for instance, when our sources report the death of a commander in the Islamic armies, they sometimes give the text of a dirge that was recited on the occasion. Here we still find the thematics of the pre-Islamic poetry, praising the deceased for his courage and generosity, and for his steadfast defense of his kin and all those who sought his protection. More often, however, and in a great variety of contexts, we find the old Arab heroism blended together with Islamic piety. We do not have to consider this a contradiction, for it is precisely this combination of self-denying monotheistic piety and swashbuckling derring-do that we find in many genres of Islamic literature relating to the jihad-for instance, in popular poems and romances and even in (apparently) sober biographical literature (see chapter 7). Nonetheless, the old heroic ethos was not, in the end, an Islamic virtue, and it constituted, for many people, a point of controversy.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Jihad in Islamic History by Michael Bonner Copyright © 2006 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Introduction 1
Ch. 2 The Quran and Arabia 20
Ch. 3 Muhammad and his community 36
Ch. 4 The great conquests 56
Ch. 5 Martyrdom 72
Ch. 6 Encounter with the other 84
Ch. 7 Embattled scholars 97
Ch. 8 Empires, armies, and frontiers 118
Ch. 9 Colonial empire, modern sate, new Jihad 157
Ch. 10 Conclusions 167
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