I posted a pair of book reviews today. I was lent both books at the same time, I read them together, and they share a great deal of information, so they go up at the same time today. The books are Inside Islam and Islam and the Jews. I have learnt much about Islam lately. My first real exposure to Islam was from the book Holiest Wars by Timothy Furnish. I read this book because I was giving a talk on Millennialism, and I wanted to include a segment on Islamic Millennialism. Furnish specializes in al-Mahdi, the Islamic messiah, so his book was the natural place to turn. Furnish's work is balanced and scholarly, and I can recommend it also, even though I have not reviewed it as of yet. Furnish has a webpage devoted to the Mahdi as well.
I enjoyed these books, and I learned a great deal about Islam from them. If one wanted a one-volume reference work on a popular level, Inside Islam would be pretty good for that purpose. These works take a warts-and-all approach, in contradistinction to the work of Koran Armstrong, a popular writer on comparative religion who has rounded off all the sharp corners of Islam in her books. If one was looking for a more sympathetic approach that was still honest, one might have to look elsewhere than either Armstrong or the two books I reviewed.