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God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

65 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0393064728
ISBN-10: 0393064727
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This superb portrayal by NYU history professor Lewis of the fraught half-millennium during which Islam and Christianity uneasily coexisted on the continent just beginning to be known as Europe displays the formidable scholarship and magisterial ability to synthesize vast quantities of material that won him Pulitzer Prizes for both volumes of W.E.B. Du Bois.In characteristically elegant prose, Lewis shows Islam arising in the power vacuum left by the death throes of the empires of newly Christianized Rome and Persian Iran, then sweeping out of the Middle East as a fighting religion, with jihad inspiring cultural pride in hitherto marginalized Arab tribes. After Charles Martel's victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 sent the Muslim invaders back south of the Pyrenees, the Umayyad dynasty consolidated its rule in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), forging a religiously tolerant, intellectually sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture whose achievements would eventually seed the Renaissance. Meanwhile, the virtually powerless Roman popes joined forces with ambitious Frankish leaders, from Pippin the Short to Charlemagne, to create the template for feudal Europe: a religiously intolerant, intellectually impoverished, socially calcified, and economically primitive society. The collapse of the Umayyad dynasty and the rise of local leaders who embraced Muslim fundamentalism as a means to power destroyed the vitality of al-Andalus, paving the way for the Crusades and the Christian reconquista of Spain. Lewis clear-sightedly lays out the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds, though his sympathies are clearly with cosmopolitan doctor/philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Musa ibn Maymun (better known in the West as Averroës and Maimonides), who represented cultural eclecticism and creedal forbearance, sadly out of place in the increasingly fanatical 12th century. 8 pages of color illus., 4 maps. (Jan.)
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God's Crucible traces in astonishing detail the development of relations between Muslims and the adherents of other faiths. -- Jonathan Berkey, Davidson College

A magisterial work by one of America's greatest historians....This is a marvelous book. -- Reza Aslan, author of No God but God

A wonderfully interesting contribution to understanding the modern world in the light of genuine, rather than dogmatic, history. -- Amartya Sen, author of Identity and Violence

Lewis's range is really remarkable...a major contribution to a still understudied and much misunderstood period of history. -- Paul Kennedy

This marvelous book offers a magisterial—and splendidly readable—guide to the history of the cultures of the Mediterranean world. -- Anthony Appiah, author of Cosmopolitanism

Vigorously expressed and yet consistently judicious, this ambitious account is as gripping and entertaining as it is profoundly instructive. -- Arnold Rampersad, Stanford University

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 512 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (January 17, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393064727
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393064728
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (65 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,123,145 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 97 people found the following review helpful By John Farrell on June 2, 2009
Format: Paperback
Clearly a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Europe's origins and Islam's role in it, but it is a trial. What starts out as a fascinating narrative soon devolves into a hard slog thanks to the author's annoying habit of infusing his own anachronistic presuppositions into the history.

The central argument of the book, and a valid one I think, is that Europe might have advanced more rapidly in its development had the Franks not checked the advance of Muslim armies into Europe at the Pyrenees. Lewis' hero, Abd al-Rahman, the first self-styled Amir of Andalusian Spain, was the sole survivor of the Syrian Umayyads, once proud rulers of Islam in the East, overthrown at last by the Abbasids. The boy made one narrow escape from assassination after another until he reached Spain where he rapidly rose to become the sophisticated ruler of al-Andalus, the parts of the Iberian Peninsula and Septimania under Muslim rule.

Lewis is at his best here. His love for the culture of Andalusian Spain and his appreciation for the sophistication of Arab culture is contagious and I found his overview of the rise of Islam thoroughly engrossing. But it's fairly plain that Muhammad brought the new faith of Islam into a civilization that was already ancient, prosperous and sophisticated. And this certainly is a factor in the speed with which it spread.

The same simply cannot be assumed about Europe, the very idea of which simply did not exist, even as the young Charlemagne earned his spurs fighting back the armies of pagan Saxons, Slavs and the many petty dukes ruling in the regions that would become France.
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57 of 68 people found the following review helpful By William J. Bowers on February 16, 2008
Format: Hardcover
"God's Crucible" is Pulitzer-Prize winning scholar David Levering Lewis's contribution to the ever-growing body of literature that seeks a better understanding of Islam and the roots of its long and complicated struggle with the west. Unlike other scholars of Islamic and Middle Eastern history who have dashed off books in the wake of September 11 -- Bernard Lewis (whom the author consulted) and Michael Oren are among the best known -- Levering Lewis's prior books have focused on Martin Luther King Jr, W.E.B. DuBois, and the leaders of the Harlem Renaissance. This gave Lewis a fresh perspective in writing "God's Crucible" as he was not burdened by what he might have written in earlier books. Still, it is clear that Lewis himself did not really know where his research would take him, what his main points would be, or even what to call this book before he started (a friend, Sandra Masur, suggested the eventual title, "God's Crucible"). With that said, this is a useful and thoughtful book.

"God's Crucible" refers to al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain, as the site of the first clash of civilizations between Islam and the Christian west.
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113 of 145 people found the following review helpful By Retired Reader on January 22, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The central argument of this rather rambling book is that the Islamic civilization that developed in the Iberian Peninsula after the Muslim conquest of the 8th Century contributed directly to the rebirth of Western European culture and learning. A secondary theme is that the Realm of Islam, after its initial and phenomenal expansion, developed into a uniquely tolerant and cultured society that compared very favorably to an intolerant and semi-barbaric Western Europe of the early Middle Ages. Yet this book is not a particularly good history. Nonetheless, it is a fun read. Lewis clearly enjoyed writing it and provides the reader with a lot of interesting detours and asides.

History is as much a matter of interpretation as a recounting of facts. It is certainly true that most Islamic fundamentalist today regard much of the period covered by this book (late 8th Century through the early 13th Century) as a `Golden Age' for Islam. It also appears accurate to argue that during this golden age at least parts of the Realm of Islam (Dar al Islam) achieved a remarkably tolerant society and a high level of culture. Yet this is a very relative conclusion. One suspects that most Muslims of the golden age were more like their contemporaneous European Christian counterparts than not. Golden age Islamic learning and culture, like contemporary European culture, were restricted to a learned minority and were scarcely universal. Also one would suspect that Islamic tolerance to religious minority groups such as the Jews and Coptic Christians was as dicey in the Golden Age as it is today. Still the Islamic society of the Iberian Peninsula had an enviable reputation for tolerance and certainly provided Western Europe with some of the intellectual horse power it needed to move into the high middle ages.
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