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The Assassins Paperback – November 26, 2002


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (November 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465004989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465004980
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #581,040 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

84 of 97 people found the following review helpful By jeffergray on November 28, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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.
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23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Aaron A. Ranck on May 22, 2000
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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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Scott Chamberlain VINE VOICE on January 17, 2003
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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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Gogol on October 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
As a previous reviewer pointed out, post 9/11 the sales of this book have probably gone through the roof not least because Lewis has been (not so subltely) making comparisons between the Assassins and Al-Qaeda but also because every Al-Qaeda opponent on the planet has been jumping on the bandwagon.

Sadly, this book aside from the obvious that it was first published years before the events of 9/11 is a missed opportunity to study a little known Islamic group and instead, relies upon shock and scandal and instead of reading like a scholarly study of a subject reads more like something you would find in a tabloid.

The book begins with some history of the word Assassin and how it came into the English language then onto some early books that have been published on the subject in the West. The book then moves onto some brief studies of the subject by British scholars in India and the briefest of analysis of the current descendants of the Assassins who reside in that country. The book then covers nothing more than the sensationalist stories of "The old man of the mountains" Who dispatched deadly assassins to murder political opponents and scholars alike. Whose movement struck fear into its enemies and was finally defeated by a similarly ruthless movement, the Mongols of Genghis and Hulagu Khans.

The book just fails miserably in studying just who exactly the Assassins were. There is simply not enough on the background of the movement. The Assassins where the spiritual descendants of the Egyptian Fatimid (who later better known as the Ismaili) movement who followed and esoteric version of Islam which did indeed produce some great scholars in medicine and science.
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