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The Assassins Paperback – November 26, 2002

3.7 out of 5 stars 42 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Learned, lucid and elegant...with great skill [Lewis] disentangles truth from legend." -- The Economist

"No one writes about Muslim history with greater authority, or intelligence, or literary charm than Professor Bernard Lewis." -- Sunday Times (London)

"[Lewis] traces with an easy, almost conversational scholarship the emergence, triumph, and sudden demise of the [Assassin] faith." -- The New Yorker

About the Author

Bernard Lewis, author of What Went Wrong?, The Middle East, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, The Arabs in History, and many other books, is Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; Reissue edition (November 23, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465004989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465004980
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (42 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #146,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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It's probably a fair guess that sales of Bernard Lewis's "The Assassins" were a lot slower before 9/11 than they are today. Many who purchased this book over the past year probably did so hoping that it would help provide some insight into Osama bin Laden and the terrorist network he heads. This book doesn't really do that, although that's no reflection on what Lewis has actually accomplished here. He wrote "The Assassins" more than a third of a century ago, and there are very significant differences between the Nizari Ismaili Order and the hate-filled fanatics of Al-Qaeda. But although this book won't help you understand what makes Osama bin Laden and his acolytes tick, it will introduce you to an important and little-known chunk of medieval Islamic history in which a lot of intriguing historical personalities play starring or supporting roles. This should be more than reward enough.
The group we call the Assassins are more accurately known as the Nizari Ismailis, an offshoot sect of Shi'i Islam. Their sect still survives today in the followers of the Aga Khan, whose communities from India to southern California reflect a progressive and humane face of Islam. From the late eleventh to thirteenth centuries, however, the Nizaris' struggle for survival in the midst of their more numerous and militarily powerful Sunni enemies led them to develop a form of defensive terrorism that proved remarkably effective in ensuring their security for almost two hundred years. In the end, however, the sect's lurid reputation proved its undoing -- for the Mongol khans ultimately concluded that their own safety could only be secured by the Assassins' extermination.

There are some similarities between the Assassins' modus operandi and that of today's Al-Qaeda terrorists.
Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
This well-written book is obviously the work of an erudite writer. Lewis provides a thorough examination of what became known to the Europeans as the Assassins. From explaining likely explanations of where the word "Assassin" came from to describing the shadowy ruler of the group, known as "The Old Man of the Mountain," Lewis keeps the reader interested by making insightful comments and offerring thoughtful analysis. Lewis writes about the origins of the Assassin movement, the affects of the Assassins on European Crusaders, Sunni rulers and others. He explains probably causes for their existence with a thorough examination of primary source material. The Assassins are a fascinating study for not only those interested in the history of Islam or the Near East, but is also perfect for those who are interested in fundamentalism, comparative religion, radicalism or someone who wants to learn more about different peoples in a different time period (sometimes the similarities between the Assassin movement and modern fundamentalist and/or radical religious movements are striking). Another fascinating aspect of this book is its sociological explanations of why the Assassins lived primarily in the mountains compared to the Sunni who lived in the fertile river vallies. I especially recommend this book to professors of Religion/History classes who are looking for a very well-written book that provides valuable information while keeping the student interested.
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Format: Paperback
This new edition has come out in the wake of the Sept 11 bombings and and upsurge in interest in Bernard Lewis's works. Those expecting a "glossy," ripped-from-the-headlines history might be put off by this book... it is a slightly updated reprinting of his classic history written a half-century ago. While it may not be a popular coffee table book, it is a throrough, highly informed work on the group that gave its name to political murder. To be honest, I got much more out of it the second time I read through it... some of the names, medieval politics, and Islamic debates left me feeling lost. The second time through, more things fell into place and I appreciated the details a great deal more. Also, I greatly appreciated his incredible knowlege of the subject and the region as a whole, as well as his keen insights into Islamic thinking. Clearly, Lewis is one of the most important Middle East scholars in a long time. Those looking for a scholarly, de-mystifying, and on its own terms readable work on the Assassins will like this book. If you're simply curious about this mysterious group, you may get more out of this volume if you first read one of Lewis's broader introductions to Islam... click on the authors name and several good choices will show up.
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Format: Paperback
The Assassins are part of the legend of the Crusades. The legend of their intoxicants, and the pleasures that initiates were allowed to sample before being sent on missions, are almost part of our historical lore, and of course the sect has lent its name to a word in the English language. This scholarly account by historian Bernard Lewis is detailed, and relentless at least in terms of sentimentality, brushing away legends and folklore and sticking to what's known of this splinter group of Islam and their culture, activities, motives, and fate.

It turns out that, as far as anyone knows, the Assassins are merely a splinter of the group called Ismailis (which still exists in Muslim countries, as a partially suppressed heresy). They existed for about three centuries, between the mid 11th century and the late 14th, in what is now northern Iran, and southern Syria. They never controlled a major city, and as a political entity, they appear to have survived largely through personal intimidation. While they were only so-so when it came to defeating armies, they were very effective at eliminating their leadership. In that era in which personal leadership, through monarchs and their surrogates, was the order of business for most governments in the area, this was particularly effective.

I enjoyed this book a great deal. If I do have a complaint, it's that the sum of knowledge about the Assassins, at least when Lewis wrote this, was rather thin, and so of course you don't get that much on them. The book itself runs to just about 150 pages in length, with an appendix which is another 50 pages tacked onto the end. The paucity of information isn't Lewis's fault, though, it's due to the secretiveness of the sect itself. Aside from that, the book is very well-done, interesting, and informative.
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