Most helpful positive review
118 of 127 people found the following review helpful
Anti-Lewis Bias is Ill-informed
on June 3, 2002
As a number of reviewers have noted, this is not Lewis's best book. It could have used an editing to reduce redundancy, and it leaves some important questions unanswered. For example, Lewis raises the fascinating issue of the failure of the Middle Eastern world--alone, it seems--to appreciate Western Classical music. Ergo, what? He doesn't say. One is left wondering what he meant to say by raising this issue.
Having said that, I have been disappointed by the hostility toward Lewis that some reviewers on this site have manifested. Most egregiously, a reviewer on this site, whom I will not name, makes some patently untrue statments about Lewis and his work, in a seeming attempt to prejudice possible readers. To set the record straight: Lewis in fact DOES distinguish between "wesernization" and "modernization," doing so several times in the course of this book, and indicating exactly what is meant by both terms. Also, Lewis has NEVER denied the genocide of Armenians by the Turks at the beginning of the last century. Quite the opposite: in his history of modern Turkey, he gives the number of slaughtered Armenians as about 1.5 million--hardly a denial. What he said in his controversial "Le Monde" interview was that there was no evidence that the massacres represented an OFFICIAL POLICY of the Turkish government. Quite a big difference. This was his assessment as an historian who has mined the documentary record; I have no reason to doubt that he is correct. Let's drop the hysteria, shall we? The interview is available, and one is free to read it for oneself. And to say that Lewis was "convicted" in a French court without mentioning that his "punishment" was a fine of two Francs rather overstates the severity with which the quirky French legal system treated his analysis.
Lewis is still one of the finest Middle Eastern historians writing in English today. He is certainly biased, but his biases run strongly IN FAVOR of the Islamic world, which he describes as being historically tolerant, original, and sophisticated (if rather arrogant in its attitude toward the "infidels" of Europe). Again, let's not distort his record. This is man who greatly admires the achievements of Islamic civilization. The fact that he views the current Middle East as failing to live up to the promise of its classical age is hardly a failure on his part. Do yourself a favor: Read his "Muslim Discovery of Europe" on which "What Went Wrong?" is largely based. It is longer, but one of the finest books you'll ever encouter on the topic of Islamic civilization's contact with the West.