The influential political scientist Samuel P. Huntington theorized about the "clash of civilizations." The journalist and poet Eliza Griswold takes on the same topic in a much more visceral way: she traveled through the "torrid zone" to see, smell, taste and write about it. Her book "The Tenth Parallel" is a fascinating journey along the latitude line in Africa and Asia where Christianity and Islam often meet and clash. Since Americans commonly equate Islam with the Arab Middle East, this book is a useful reminder that four-fifths of Muslims live elsewhere. It's also an intimate introduction to some of those who live in places like Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
"The Tenth Parallel" is a beautifully written book, full of arresting stories woven around a provocative issue — whether fundamentalism leads to violence — which Griswold investigates through individual lives rather than caricatures or abstractions. In this tropical region where monsoons and jungles give way to desert, she looks at how history, resources, climate and demographic trends have combined with and shaped the struggle among religions. Because of both population growth and the explosion of Christianity in Africa in the last half-century, nearly a fourth of the world's Christians now live south of the 10th parallel, alongside Muslims who are migrating from the north to escape creeping desertification. All along this fault line, struggles over valuable resources like oil, lumber and minerals add to the volatile mix.