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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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 magisterialand splendidly readableguide 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