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The Muslim Discovery of Europe Paperback – October 17, 2001

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company (October 17, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393321657
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393321654
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 5.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.1 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #659,035 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Full of rare and exact information.... A distinguished work. -- New York Review of Books

About the Author

Bernard Lewis is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Emeritus, at Princeton University.

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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars
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See all 19 customer reviews
It has a great explanation for the stagnation of the Muslim/Arab Empire.
Scott Albert Beal
There is too much repetition- the author makes the same points over and over and includes four quotations when one or two would suffice.
Bruce Loveitt
Again, Lewis' style is extremely fluid and this is a book that everybody can enjoy.
Stephen Taylor

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

137 of 146 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Taylor on November 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
"The Muslim Discovery of Europe" is a must-read for anyone interested in Middle Eastern history, especially the period between 1500 and 1900. Bernard Lewis writes in a silky-smooth, easy-to-read style, yet the book is erudite and not "Middle Eastern history for dummies".
Lewis explores how the "medieval iron curtain" between Christendom and Islam gradually broke down (to the extent that it did) between the Crusades and the middle of the 19th century, underscoring the Muslim world's changing views of Europe. From Islam's early days up through the Ottoman zenith in the 16th century, Islamic civilization was unquestionably more brilliant than its European counterpart. So Muslims didn't find much reason to be interested in the West. While Europe's Roman forbears might be worth a glance, the average Middle Easterner's image of a European before 1800 was the one (perhaps mythic) symbolized by the filthy Austrian soldiers who, in a 17th-century assault on Budapest (then an Ottoman city), turned an immaculate Turkish bath-house into a horse stable and then washed themselves in their animals' urine. With some justification, Muslim scholars reasoned that Europe had no important ideas and no important literature: the most noteworthy European writer of the Middle Ages, after all, was St. Thomas Aquinas, whose books obviously didn't have anything interesting to say to Muslims. Consequently, for centuries, educated Muslims thought it was a waste of time to learn about Europe.
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164 of 186 people found the following review helpful By sid1gen on August 1, 2001
Format: Paperback
I have just finished reading Bernard Lewis' "The Muslim Discovery of Europe" (1982 edition), and I find, once again, that Professor Lewis is a master. Just as he did in "Semites and Anti-Semites," the author provides the reader with the necessary information to start the process of acquiring an educated opinion on the subject. In this case, Professor Lewis deals, as the title implies, with the Muslim "discovery" of Europe, and what emerges is the picture of an entire civilization so certain of its own importance and so sure of its righteousness, that it does not do much to know the barbarians from the North and West, robbing itself of the chance to learn something, maybe little but most probably quite a lot, from a different culture, one that, quite unexpectedly, would turn planetary in a matter of centuries. The Muslim world appears as what great civilizations --and most big countries today-- tend to be: obsessed with itself. Professor Lewis proves that, even if the European attitude towards other cultures was similar to that of the Muslims, Europe always allowed a little window of doubt to upset the perfect order of a religion-based society. Doubt and curiosity blessed Europe. After all the bloodshed and the terrible price paid in lives and suffering, Europe could still astound the world with the "Renaissance" of the 12th century, and the true Renaissance that started in Italy in the 14th. Hand in hand with religious murders, expulsion of Jews and Moors, Inquisition, Reformation, and Thirty-Years War, Europe gave "Don Quijote," Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo, Newton, Leibnitz, Descartes, Boccaccio, Dante, and thousands of others to the world. While this was happening, Europe's most powerful neighbor was blinded by its own arrogance and its total belief in its superiority.Read more ›
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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Virgil on July 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Bernard Lewis is a historian and expert on the Islamic world or more specifically the Middle East. In the Muslim Discovery of Europe he looks at how the Islamic world came to see the West and its influence.
Throughout Lewis shows the strange duality of the Islamic regimes and culture. In some ways tolerant of Christianity and Judaism (although more dismissive and contemptuous than is commonly realized), Islamic culture became incapable of making the next leap forward into a more secular, rationale society.
Here Lewis traces the perception of writers, scientists, diplomats and traders from the Ottoman empire through their letters, edicts and other writings. It is an amazing eye opener for those unfamiliar with non-western perceptions. Lewis shows a culture that is first progressive, then increasingly unable to come to grips with either the West or its science and technology. What was progressive becomes eventually, under the latter Ottomans, the definition of decay and backwardness.
This is great historical writing in some ways as important, though not as revisionist, as Eric Wolfe's "Europe and the Peoples Without a History". Highly illuminating and highly recommended.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Martin Hall on November 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
This book clearly demonstrates that Professor Lewis is extremely knowledgeable about the Muslim world.

The book has a great deal of information, primarily what was written by Muslims about Europe. The most striking feature is that Muslims' knowledge of (and apparent interest in) Europe was surprising sparse and poorly-informed up until the nineteenth century.

Professor Lewis discusses several reasons for this, including:

a) initially Islam was on the rise, with Europe being barbarous (the Dark Ages), hence strong feelings of cultural superiority;

b) Europe was Christian, which was viewed as a superceded religion, and the primary enemy of Islam, and hence offering little of interest;

c) Supremacy of theology in Islamic intellectual life discouraging "innovation", which became equated with heresy; and

d) Lack of Muslim communities in Europe, due both to Christian intolerance and Muslim desire to live in an Islamic state.

Only after the heavy Ottoman defeats of the late 18th century did the Ottomans start to shift their position and begin to acknowledge that there was a lot to learn from Europe. Even then the process was slow, hesitant (even back-tracking) and limited.

I found the book interesting, with a lot of information. However I thought it rather dry - I kept waiting for a section which brought it all together and and gave the "so what" factor. For me, the book would have been significantly improved by more discourse on what this all meant - hence only 3 stars.
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