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The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years Reprint Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0684832807
ISBN-10: 0684832801
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

To gain a better understanding of contemporary Middle Eastern culture and society, which is steeped in tradition, one should look closely at its history. Bernard Lewis, Professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, considered one of the world's foremost authorities on the Middle East, spans 2000 years of this region's history, searching in the past for answers to questions that will inevitably arise in the future.

Drawing on material from a multitude of sources, including the work of archaeologists and scholars, Lewis chronologically traces the political, economical, social, and cultural development of the Middle East, from Hellenization in antiquity to the impact of westernization on Islamic culture. Meticulously researched, this enlightening narrative explores the patterns of history that have repeated themselves in the Middle East.

From the ancient conflicts to the current geographical and religious disputes between the Arabs and the Israelis, Lewis examines the ability of this region to unite and solve its problems and asks if, in the future, these unresolved conflicts will ultimately lead to the ethnic and cultural factionalism that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

From Library Journal

A noted Middle East historian, Lewis (Islam and the West, LJ 5/1/93) has written a 2000-year history of a region stretching from Libya to Central Asia. He concludes with the effects of the Gulf War and the entry into negotiations of the PLO and the government of Israel. Beginning his history before the rise of Christianity and Islam, Lewis seeks to illuminate the connections between the ancient Middle East and the modern region. He outlines the histories of pre-Islamic Arabia and the two great empires of Sasanid Persia and Byzantium. These entities formed the backdrop for the rise of the Prophet Muhammed and the formation of the Islamic polity. Lewis concentrates on the cultural, social, and economic changes in the region while keeping the political narrative to a minimum. He includes many direct quotations from a variety of contemporary sources to highlight a given period and place, providing an immediacy of experience not offered by conventional narrative or analysis. Highly recommended.?Robert J. Andrews, Duluth P.L., Minn.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (August 7, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684832801
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684832807
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #57,310 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By Bruce Kendall VINE VOICE on October 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
Lewis is the Daniel Boorstin of Middle East historians. He brings the same sort of encyclopaedic knowledge to his subject. The vast scope of his erudition is evident on every page in this volume. In fact, if there is anything to quibble about, it may be that few readers will be able to keep pace with him as he traverses Middle-Eastern history and landscape.
Part of the difficulty in keeping up comes from the way in which Lewis presents his information. This is not your typical linear narrative, starting at a particular era and then ploughing forward through time. Though there is an overall progression (we start out in the Roman era and end up in current times), the author also often backtracks when discussing different aspects of the civilizations he covers. So while the book starts out in a relatively chronological manner in the first few chapters(Romans>Byzantines-Crusades>Mongol Invasions>Turkic Ascendency-Ottomans), we suddenly detour to Part IV of the book, entitled "Cross-Sections." Lewis then proceeds to break down different societal components such as "The State," "The Economy," "The Elites," etc. in which he backtracks to provide additional details about groups he has earlier portrayed. This is where I for one, who am looking for enlightenment on these subjects and have no real background scholastically speaking, had a hard time keeping track. I consider myself at least a moderately attentive reader, and a lover of history from Herodotus to Gibbon to Parkman to Tuchman, but felt swamped at times here from the sheer wealth and breadth of information. One also had better be up on their geography from about six different eras in that part of the world.
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Format: Paperback
In a remarkable survey of Middle Eastern history, Lewis improves greatly on prior accounts. First, he starts not with the seventh century, when Islam originated, but goes the whole way back to the time of Jesus. This has the distinct virtue of placing Islamic history in context, rather than seeing it as an almost complete innovation.
Second, Lewis aspires to do more than recite names and dates; he hopes to convey something of the texture of Middle Eastern life. His is a thoroughly modern history, full of striking details and illustrative personalities. While some of his information will no doubt be familiar to a reader with basic knowledge of the Middle East, Lewis draws extensively on his own original research, insuring that much of his book will be novel even to the most practiced Middle East hand.
Third, the author resists the small-minded orthodoxies of political correctness. Lastly, the book is exceedingly well written. Recently dubbed "one of the great prose writers of the last fifty years," Lewis has a knack for the vignette, the turn of phrase, and the telling quotation.
Lewis wrote his first published article in 1936 and celebrated his eightieth birthday earlier this year. The Middle East is a fitting capstone to his long career, surveying with broad strokes so many of the topics he has previously written about in more detail. The reader can now benefit from this lifetime of study within the covers of a single book.
Middle East Quarterly, Sept 1996
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Format: Paperback
Books about the Middle East concerned less with current headlines, prognosticating, or analyzing policies seem in short supply, but Bernard Lewis's The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years is a welcome departure. Because it predates 9/11, it is more of a scholarly introduction than a cultural or political document. Two aspects of Lewis's The Middle East I appreciated were his historical and geographical framing, and his emphasis on Ottoman history.
Although most of the book involves the Ottoman period, because of the volume of original sources, Lewis starts not with Mohammad classical period, but in the pre-classical empires of the Roman Empire and Persia. The perspective illustrates Islam's genius for adapting both indigenous and exogenous alternatives to local problems. Geographically, Lewis stays fixed on Ottoman and Persian territory, with only occasional references to Central Asian, European, African, and Southeast Asian history. This keeps the reader immersed in the region without following Islam's extended borders in other regions.
Another aspect I liked was an emphasis on Ottoman history, and not classical Islam. There is entire section on culture, law, religion, and social classes, which acts as an interlude between the early Ottoman Period and modern times. Here he addresses very succinctly and diplomatically many issues relevant to contemporary discussions. Many readers no doubt will be disappointed by his apparent reticence, but he avoids placing the debate in the classical period.
Lewis makes a controversial argument that is certainly counter-intuitive and offensive to Muslim fundamentalists. The West has not intervened in the Middle East, except for limited economic and political contacts over short periods.
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Format: Paperback
Contrary to previous reviewers, this book is NOT banal or dull. Bernard Lewis is the preeminent English-writing historian on the world's powderkeg region of today and has a wealth of knowledge on the area and its culture. For the average non-fiction reader, the text is not tough to read and has quite a bit of life to it, but if all you read is Oprah's Book of the Month, it may be a bit tedious.
However, I can only give it three stars because, although it's subtitled "A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years," it was a bit too brief for my literary palate. I anxiously devoured the work eager to learn about Suleyman the Magnificent and Ataturk; instead I learned that the eggplant comes from the Middle East and a peach, at one time, was known as a Persian apple.
And that's my biggest gripe with the book. Lewis titles it as an overview of the region giving prospective readers the idea it will cover famous Middle East leaders, its countries and their origins, and the timeless religious conflicts. Instead, the book takes a Howard Zinn approach to the region and covers in great detail the inhabitants and their religion, culture, economy, social castes, judicial systems, agriculture, etc. Over one-third of the book entitled "Cross-Sections" is on this subject matter, And although informative, it is impertinent to the political history of the Muslim world, which the title of the book implies it is about.
The only historical figure garnering a significant amount of ink in the book is, for obvious reasons, Muhammad. Lewis' basic explanation of the Muslim religion in his section "The Dawn and Noon of Islam," is an engrossing look into one of the major religions of the world and would be quite helpful to someone who is new to the subject matter.
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