The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (Review)

Book cover for "The Tenth Parallel" by Eliza Griswold.Title: The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam

Author: Eliza Griswold

Narrator: Tavia Gilbert

Publication Year: 2010

Pages: 336 (audio length: 11 hours 33 minutes)

Genre: Non-Fiction

Source: Audiobook version purchased from

From the cover:

The tenth parallel — the line of latitude seven hundred miles north of the equator — is a geographical and ideological front line where Christianity and Islam collide. More than half of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims live along the tenth parallel; so do sixty percent of the world’s 2 billion Christians. Here, in the buzzing megacities and swarming jungles of Africa and Asia, is where the two religions meet; their encounter is shaping the future of each faith, and of whole societies as well.

An award-winning investigative journalist and poet, Eliza Griswold has spent the past seven years traveling between the equator and the tenth parallel: in Nigeria, the Sudan, and Somalia, and in Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines. The stories she tells in The Tenth Parallel show us that religious conflicts are also conflicts about land, water, oil, and other natural resources, and that local and tribal issues are often shaped by religious ideas. Above all, she makes clear that, for the people she writes about, one’s sense of God is shaped by one’s place on earth; along the tenth parallel, faith is geographic and demographic.

An urgent examination of the relationship between faith and worldly power, The Tenth Parallel is an essential work about the conflicts over religion, nationhood and natural resources that will remake the world in the years to come.

I’ve actually somewhat surprised myself by deciding, in the end, that this book is a “must-read”.

You see, I first tried to listened The Tenth Parallel about a year ago. After about an hour of the book, started and stopped and started more times than I could count – I just wasn’t really following. Or interested. I was confused and unsure that I was going to like the book, since so far I hadn’t even managed to become immersed in the story. So I did something rare forms with an audiobook … I set it aside to try again another time.

I finally picked it up again last month, thinking that it was time to do or die. And, with a fresh pair of ears and a determination to get through the book this time, not only did I manage to finish it … I was engrossed.

The most interesting part of this book, I think, is the way that it reveals what’s going on n a part of the world that we barely know about. I would hazard a guests hat outside of missionary (and possibly humanitarian aid) circles, not many people know about the 10/40 Window. I know that I didn’t. And yet, this book tells, in fascinating detail, about the ways in which people’s lives in this area are shaped by religion, economics, and the foreign policy (particularly evangelism) of “the West”. While The Tenth Parallel is framed as a conflict between Christianity and Islam, it’s really about more than that. And Grizwold does a wonderful job of explaining and humanizing these conflicts for her readers.

I do have a couple of criticisms. Early in the book, “jihad” is translated (without any explanatory or corrective notes) as “holy war” … something that is at best inaccurate, and at worst, misleading. It’s language like that that makes it seem at times that there’s a slant towards the “side” of Christianity in the book, though I don’t think it’s intentional. It’s also really hard to follow the geography and the names of people in the book sometimes, but perhaps this would’ve easier in the print edition? Or maybe it’s just that you need to have a good mind for dates and places: something that is definitely it my strong point.

Also, the narrator consistently pronounces the word “sheikh/shaikh” as “chic/sheek”, which drove me a bit crazy. But other than that, she did a fantastic job; Gilbert is actually one of the reasons I decided to listen to this book instead of reading the paper copy, since I’d enjoyed her work before.

The Tenth Parallel is mostly brilliant, though. It’s particularly interesting to see the misconceptions that each group has of each other, and the connections with colonization, American imperialism, and Western missionary work were fascinating. If you’re going to read one non-fiction book about the state of the world today, my vote is for this one.


This book is a part of the Ramadan Reading event happening here this month.

You can find other posts in the series by clicking on the image to the right, or by taking a look at the schedule of posts and reviews.

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