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Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian Hardcover – May 10, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 35 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Notes on a Century is an extraordinary work: erudite, witty, and profound. In summing up his long life in pursuit of knowledge of the region that has fascinated him since childhood, Bernard Lewis has produced a book that will engage, inform, and entertain the scholar and layman alike.”
—Henry Kissinger

“Whether writing about the early history of the Arabs or the development of the modern Turkish state, Mr. Lewis has always been unusually alert to nuance and ambiguity; he is wary of his sources and tests them against other evidence. . . . He has evinced not only an unswerving commitment to historical truth and a hatred of what he calls ‘the falsification of history’ but also a passionate, at times obsessive, curiosity about other peoples, other places. . . . No matter how recondite or exotic his subject matter, he writes incisively and with unobtrusive elegance.”

Wall Street Journal

“Lewis has led a staggeringly productive life—publishing a jaw-dropping 32 books—and seems to have had more fun than any department worth of more somber professors. . . . We are fortunate to have this chatty memoir of reminiscences of scholarly discovery and stimulating encounters with everyone from Isaac Stern to Scoop Jackson to the shah of Iran.”—The Washington Post

“Few could produce a book as witty, erudite and humorous as this engaging autobiography, which, alongside these lighter characteristics, is also packed with learning and wisdom. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the distillation of a long, attentive and productive life as a scholar and engaged intellectual. . . . We did not need this book to tell us how impressive an intellect Mr. Lewis has or what a superbly informed historian he is, but it reminds us nonetheless of all this. As it does of what a charming and attractive personality he has been graced with, enabling him to draw attention so easily to what he has to impart.”

The Washington Times

“Thoughtful, outspoken words from a sage who has lived his share of history . . . In episodic, wittily composed chapters, Lewis addresses salient events in his career as a historian of the Near and Middle East. . . . He writes frankly of his long tenure at Princeton, the dicey Israel-Palestinian crisis, and the eclipse of secularism in the Muslim world.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Lewis looks back at his achievements as a founder of the discipline of Islamic history, a prodigious scholar and writer, and a tireless traveler who forged relationships with scholars and government leaders all over the world. . . . Here, he conveys the intellectual curiosity and power that has enabled him to transmit to both academics and general readers an understanding of the development of Islam as a faith and a culture along with the rise and decline of Islamic political power. With scholarly rigor and graceful, witty prose, he also offers insights about the nature of history, cultural identity, and literary values. This memoir by an intellectual committed to a relentless search for historical understanding of a complex society is highly recommended.”
Library Journal

“A much-needed corrective . . . Lewis’ understanding reflects more than the usual journalism or scholarship. As a British intelligence officer, a multilingual translator of Middle Eastern poetry, and a tireless traveler through remote regions, Lewis has actually participated in developments shaping the Middle East.”
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)

About the Author

Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University, the author of many books, and is internationally recognized as the greatest historian of the Middle East.

Buntzie Ellis Churchill served for twenty-three years as president of the World Affairs Council of Philadephia and for a decade hosted the daily radio show World Views.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; First Edition edition (May 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023531
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023530
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6.4 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #780,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
The Short Version

Bernard Lewis is a renowned Middle Eastern historian approaching his century mark. In this his swan-song he gives a brief biographical sketch from his early years through the time he begins to achieve fame in his field, gives favorite anecdotes from a lifetime spent as confidant and advisor to rulers and statesmen and from his career in academia, and finally, answers some of his critics. While very different from his multitude of scholarly writings, this one is still packed with tidbits of analysis and history and well worth reading for both those familiar with Professor Lewis' earlier writings and those who are meeting this great mind for the first time.

The Long Version

This was perhaps one of my most anticipated pre-publication review manuscripts, and while it was very different from what I expected, it did not disappoint. A Middle Eastern scholar of great renown approaching his hundredth year, Professor Lewis is certainly no stranger to publication-he has thirty-two books, which have in their turn been translated into twenty-nine languages, to his credit. In the past decade and a half he has churned out a stunning dozen books which he himself gives explanation of in this book as a cleaning out of his files, the desire to finish, before he departs this earth, all the loose ends of research that he has left hanging about his cabinets. This book is very different. It truly is notes on a century.

The first section of the book reads almost like a biography, in which Professor Lewis gives an account of his youth, university years, initial jobs in academia, war service during the Second World War, and finally his return to teaching after the war.
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Format: Hardcover
Bernard Lewis is such a polished writer that I was able to read this volume in under a week. That is due to his extremely readable style while he discusses arcane and obscure subjects. The experiences of a lifetime are still fresh in the mind of this nonagenarian (or he at least keeps copious notes). About halfway through the book, I realized the book title was a statement of fact, and not a flight of poetic whimsy. These are the notes on a century of thought.

For anyone interested in fuller comprehension of how the Middle East works, doesn't work, and why it is the way it is, read this book. Why is the concept of religion and state so intertwined in the Muslim world? He explains through the historical perspective, which is the only true way of examining states and cultures. He does not tell you what he thinks, he says this is what happened historically.

Early in the book, he relates the fascinating story of a fellow scholar who during the 1950s released a study on the various ancient texts of the Holy Koran that were extant at ancient libraries. Early manuscripts of the Hadith (traditional oral saying of the Prophet) varied greatly in spelling, content and interpretation. This sort of work is common in Western society, to examine the past to better understand the future. The scholar found to his great surprise that Egyptian students burned the released book in bonfires, with their imams declaring it heretical. Lewis explains why this is not simply mob mentality, but has deep historical and religious motives. If you were ever inclined to watch the news coming out of the Middle East and just shake your head at what you saw, read this book, and find your worldview forever changed.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is an excellent read about how we got into this mess of the Middle East spoken/written by an acclaimed professor of Arabic Studies. All politicians should read this so they have a better understanding of the actual history of each country in the Middle East and how the Western World played them for their oil, their position in the world and alliances with or against other world powers to be. There is incite from the Shah of Iran. There is incite from when the colonies of N Africa becoming their own countries. There are certain round table discussions of years ago that no one seems to want to know about for today's negotiations, if that is what you call it. There is a history lesson of the Middle East from the centuries back, that no one seems to know or has distorted for their own rants and demands. Bernard Lewis has learned multiple languages so that he can be respected as a person on the "inside". He mentions about the "liberal" attitudes of the liberal college professors that push their agenda on their immature, maybe intelligent, but not so knowledgable impressionable students and we wonder why there are these protests on the campuses today? The author lays the ground work for all that is happening today is what has been cultivated and honed over the last 40 years. Very insightful, full of history that we all need to be enlightened. Reading this book makes me think that some of the behaviors and statements made by our leaders are really showing their ignorance. Certainly the behavior of the students at the universities, like Yale and Princeton and the positions they are standing for, well they need to wake up and stop following some idea because it is popular but to stand up for what is the truth! Extremely well written, interesting and frustrating knowing what we all should know but don't.
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