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Worlds at War: The 2,500-Year Struggle Between East and West Paperback – March 10, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In the pessimistic words of the ancient historian Herodotus, there will ever be perpetual enmity between the globe's two halves. Pagden (Peoples and Empires), a professor of political science and history at UCLA, tackles the immense sweep of 2,500 years of bad blood and seeks to explain the feud's continuing existence despite the increasing erosion of national differences. Does the trouble have geographical roots, or might it stem from religious differences? Pagden is convinced that in fact East and West are separated more by values and culture than by anything else—democratic vs. authoritarian rule, secular vs. theocratic and, later, Christian vs. Muslim. Though some readers might cavil at Pagden's reductionist assertion that religion has caused more lasting harm to the human race than any other single set of beliefs, his book is an accessible and lucid exploration of the history of the East-West split, concluding with a nuanced look at the divisions and misapprehensions that continue to the present time. Fans of Jacques Barzun and Jared Diamond will be most impressed by Pagden's big picture perspective. (Mar. 4)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Plumbing millennia of conflict between European civilizations and those of the Near East, historian Pagden outlines historical antecedents to present frictions between the secular West and the Muslim world. If the collisions between Greek and Persian, Roman and barbarian, Christian and pagan, Christian and Muslim, and imperialist and nationalist have something in common, according to Pagden, it is the rivalry of universalistic ideas about humanity and providence. Through each of these pairs of opposites, Pagden introduces intellectuals of the age who puzzled over their cultural adversary, often in response to a calamity, such as the Crusaders’ capture of Jerusalem in 1099 or the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople in 1453. Their analyses, whose realism or logic Pagden critiques, for returning humanity to its providential destination, be it Christianity, Islam, or liberal democracy, slot into the author’s chronological narrative of major exacerbations of West-East animosity, from the Trojan War to the Iraq War. Inquisitive and incisive about the sweep of history, Pagden will connect with readers wanting to deepen their grasp of contemporary news. --Gilbert Taylor --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
Pagden begins from the earliest historical evidence ... the Trojan War ... earlier in pre-history; the conflict may be in fact be another 2500 years older. East & West do not get along and never have. This is a reader's digest that helps to pick up on the fine `silver threads'.
The first half of Worlds at War provides the necessary and interesting backdrop to the conflict ... Greeks sparing with Persians, Persians beating Greeks, Greeks conquering the East, Rome conquering Greece, Persians re-conquering land lost to Greeks, #1 power Rome stalemating #2 power Parthia, Muslims blitzkrieg Christians out of their failing Roman Empire with drives into Europe as deep as France, Christians retaliate and beat back Muslims in the western Europe but fail at the Crusades in the east, the Ottoman machine makes another Muslim run into the European heartland, the Ottoman's are slowly and recently run out of Europe, and here we are.
Pagden describes the continuous 2500 year war punctuated only by intensities. Pagden pays close attention to the periods of high and low intensity in the sine wave nature of the conflict. Diplomacy has merely provided the necessary time to regroup and birth new combatants for the next period of conflagration.
The second half of the book digs deeper into the current story with its interesting roots in Napoleon's conquests in Egypt, followed by extraordinarily complex political experiments and intrigue, WW1, more experiments and intrigue, WW2, then through 2007. The closer you get to present, the more your own bias and understanding are tested by Pagden.
The East vs West has been redefined most recently by the East from Christian or Jew vs Muslim into secular West vs Islam. Removing Christianity or Judaism from the equation has done an increasingly secular agnostic/atheist West no favor in the struggle. The secular East attempts to be flexible but Islam cannot change. The recent moderate/secular Muslim political experiments in Iran, Egypt, Pakistan, Algeria, etc have or are failing in the ascending and undeniable return to the historical roots of Islamic worldview ... the faithful cannot, tolerate challenges to the Quran or Sharia and remain Muslim... Allah must and will be carried to the globe through conquest of land and peoples.
The book is a must read for the greater understanding of the whole story. Propagandized vignettes of, "the bad Crusaders, bad Israelis, bad Palestinians, etc" , do not do justice to the magnitude and image that Pagden offers.
Other once great civilizations (China, Russia, Japan, India, etc) have embraced the minimum changes required to accommodate one another in the modern world and in their own ways. The Islamic world cannot embrace change in this East vs West struggle. There is no good news here. The reader rises and falls on the crests of the conflicts historical sine waves of intensity. This reader concludes that the intensity is again nearing a peak. The reader begins to understand that no solution on the table is workable and we are without recourse to the historical struggle.
By the East Pagden means what most now call the Middle East and Central Asia. Beginning with the struggle between the Greek city-states and the Persian Empire, Pagden then covers the empires of Alexander and of Rome, the rise of Christianity and Islam, and the resultant struggles between the two monotheistic religions. Some of Pagden's most ascerbic comments come at the expense of monotheism, whose adherents' tendencies to see the world in black and white he considers to be the root of most of our troubles. Fortunately he resists the temptation to sneer at the followers of those religions, reserving his scorn for those popes, caliphs, and other religious "leaders" who abused their power and wasted the lives of their communicants. Inevitably Pagden must finish his work with an examination of the troubles between the West and the Islamic Middle East in the twentieth century, and he provides an excellent history of that ongoing dispute, ending with some penetrating analyses of the mistakes both East and West have made over the years.
Pagden writes well, with a good eye for an illuminating anecdote. I wish a few more maps had been included to help locate some of the more obscure locales he mentions, but overall this is a fine work which I really enjoyed.
Pagden offers the obligatory critique of Western hubris and the standard condemnation of the Crusades but he never loses sight of the fact that the totalitarian nature of Islam is the primary reason that states whose elites continue insist that all must "submit" have such sad histories of economic and political failure. He even has the nerve to dismiss the pop-psych rantings of Edward Said, the darling of the aging left. Not many do.
The work is thoroughly documented and the prose flows. What more could we want - short of another Sam Huntington.
As a consequesnce it is very compacted, but never ovewhelming. An excellent handbook for the general reader
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