Customer Reviews for

The Orientalist: Solving the Mystery of a Strange and Dangerous Life

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Most Helpful Favorable Review

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

Stranger Than Fiction!

¿The Orientalist¿ by Tom Reiss is one of my all time favorite reads! What a great book. As a former student of Soviet studies, a fan of `Essad Bey¿ and `Kurban Said¿ (how could I have known they were the same person!) as well as an enthusiastic consumer of a...
¿The Orientalist¿ by Tom Reiss is one of my all time favorite reads! What a great book. As a former student of Soviet studies, a fan of `Essad Bey¿ and `Kurban Said¿ (how could I have known they were the same person!) as well as an enthusiastic consumer of all things Middle Eastern, political and philosophical I found this book with its twists and turns and jaunts into our not so distant history fascinating. It is an exhilarating read! Don¿t try to read this in pieces¿pick it up stick with it and in the morning on the second day you too will sigh in breathless disbelief! This is not just the journey of one amazing Baku Jew¿it is the journey of us all as we seek to fit in, to create, to understand and to be someone. But unlike most of us `Lev Nussimbaum¿ was not satisfied with the lot life had dealt him. So with delft cunning and a personal bravado he did something few even imagine¿he reinvented himself, time and again! Tragic and touching. The only thing better than the story-line is Tom Reiss¿ style¿and his amazing detective work that allows this enigmatic young ¿Orientalist¿ to come alive on the pages. On the wings of Nussimbaum¿s life Tom Reiss soars with the reader through the turmoil in Baku, plunges downward into the belly of the Nazi Beast¿to snatch a fascinating glimpse at Lev¿s interaction with Ezra Pound, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, even Mussolini¿Then Reiss effortlessly glides up and up with this rising star only to nose dive into an ending that can only be described as ¿stranger than fiction!¿ Interspersed throughout are interviews with real and astonishing personages! If you think you know the history of Nazi Germany, of the Soviet Revolution, of the pre-World War II Middle East, you need to read this book!

posted by Anonymous on February 26, 2006

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Most Helpful Critical Review

1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

A lot of information

The author obviously devoted much effort and time to get this history together. Yet I never came to care about the main subject. Someone who went by several names and posed as a Muslim? Never felt I cared.

posted by Boston8b on February 22, 2013

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 16, 2006

    fantastic

    It revils history that intentionally is forgotten and disclose complexity of the world.Brilliant.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 26, 2006

    Stranger Than Fiction!

    ¿The Orientalist¿ by Tom Reiss is one of my all time favorite reads! What a great book. As a former student of Soviet studies, a fan of `Essad Bey¿ and `Kurban Said¿ (how could I have known they were the same person!) as well as an enthusiastic consumer of all things Middle Eastern, political and philosophical I found this book with its twists and turns and jaunts into our not so distant history fascinating. It is an exhilarating read! Don¿t try to read this in pieces¿pick it up stick with it and in the morning on the second day you too will sigh in breathless disbelief! This is not just the journey of one amazing Baku Jew¿it is the journey of us all as we seek to fit in, to create, to understand and to be someone. But unlike most of us `Lev Nussimbaum¿ was not satisfied with the lot life had dealt him. So with delft cunning and a personal bravado he did something few even imagine¿he reinvented himself, time and again! Tragic and touching. The only thing better than the story-line is Tom Reiss¿ style¿and his amazing detective work that allows this enigmatic young ¿Orientalist¿ to come alive on the pages. On the wings of Nussimbaum¿s life Tom Reiss soars with the reader through the turmoil in Baku, plunges downward into the belly of the Nazi Beast¿to snatch a fascinating glimpse at Lev¿s interaction with Ezra Pound, Vladimir Nabokov, Franz Kafka, even Mussolini¿Then Reiss effortlessly glides up and up with this rising star only to nose dive into an ending that can only be described as ¿stranger than fiction!¿ Interspersed throughout are interviews with real and astonishing personages! If you think you know the history of Nazi Germany, of the Soviet Revolution, of the pre-World War II Middle East, you need to read this book!

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2005

    Intricate, Intriguing, Incredible

    Before Madonna started re-inventing herself into various personae, there was Lev Nussimbaum. What would compel a Jew from Baku, Azerbaijan to chameleonize himself into Essad Bey, cosmopolitan Muslim writer and Nazi supporter? THE ORIENTALIST is the fascinating tale of just how this transpired. Along the way, the reader is taken on a wild magic carpet ride through the first half of the twentieth century. There are unforgettable, eccentric characters and an intricate weaving of the overview of history with small details. Tom Reiss is both sympathetic and relentless in tracing the life of Nussimbaum. This book has beautiful prose with an intriguing story, which does have a bearing on the world readers live in today. ¿ Leslie Strang Akers.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2013

    speculative pretension

    speculative pretension

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 22, 2013

    A lot of information

    The author obviously devoted much effort and time to get this history together. Yet I never came to care about the main subject. Someone who went by several names and posed as a Muslim? Never felt I cared.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 1, 2006

    'the Orientalist' a fine exploration of the human enigma

    Tom Reiss's 'The Orientalist' is a superb exploration of the enigmatic author Lev Nussimbaum and of the malign Chaos that is History(the History they don't teach you about in classrooms). This book is at times awe-inspiring and perhaps even a little frightening. Lev Nussimbaum's attempts to submerge himself in the ideas of(and his conception of) another culture are examined here with perception, wit, and honesty. You very much perceive that Lev was forever being tossed about by the malevolent tidal waves of history yet never quite going under. I smiled when I saw Death robbing the Nazis of their final victory over the man. What a remarkable human being and what a strange shadow he casts upon our crazy, hate-filled time. Nussimbaum's ideas may seem a little absurd these days, but all of us are absurd in the final analysis. Reiss's eye for the changing tides of history and the unlikely interconnections between people and ideas is wonderful. His eye furthermore doesn't flinch at human hypocrisy , the horrible ironies of human affairs, or the Void itself. The great Terry Southern once observed the first point to appreciate about an enigma is that it is indeed an enigma. Tom Reiss never quite penetrates to the heart of the enigma that is Lev Nussimbaum - but could he? There will always be some irreducible and perplexing element in all people that will evade the rational eye. Read this book and wonder. And be afraid....

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 10, 2005

    A very good book

    I enjoyed reading the book about a European author and finding out about some of his friends and family members. I'm glad I had a chance to read Tom Reiss's biography.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 15, 2005

    Return with us now to those days of yesteryear

    Within the first five pages, I began reading The Orientalist aloud. Why? Perhpas it was like the concept of the 'radio of the mind,' where your mind supplied the images. And in the reading of The Orientalist, the images and sounds of my childhood came flooding back in Tom Reiss' narrative. I was eight and a half when the Japanese bombed Peral Harbor. Although my mother and father only had basic educations they read Time, Life, Collier's, The Grit, and others, two newspapers a day, and listened to the radio throughout the day and evening. Each evening, of course after The Lone Ranger, Jack Armstrong, Sgt. Preston et al, we'd listen to Edward R. Murrow, whom my father knew, and other Network correspondents report the national and World War II news. At age 11 I got an evening paper route. My coustomer always got their papers late--I always took time to read the war correspondents' columns and the news and maps about the progress of the Allies against the Axis before I began my route. The Orientalist brings a very important era of human history to life. It should be required reading for both those who don't know the past and those who've forgotten it. If those in charge at Random House are wise, then they will nominate Tom Reiss and The Orientalist for the Pulitzer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2005

    Stranger Than Fiction

    This is one of the most intriguing true-life tales I¿ve ever read. I generally prefer novels to nonfiction, but this book held my attention in the same way that The DaVinci Code did. I¿m a history buff who usually reads cloak-and-dagger mysteries. This book had it all for me!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 13, 2005

    It was so brilliant I couldn't put it down

    The Orientalist combines history, religion, drama, romance and intrigue to form one of the most exciting and page-turning books of nonfiction I've ever read. It's a masterpiece!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 25, 2005

    What an unbelievable journey! Could not put the book down.

    Every corner of this book is filled with interesting details and stories they never taught you in history. The story of Lev's life is almost unbelievable, but the wonderful footnotes paints a full picture of the time and situation that makes the seemingly impossible journey possible. The author's attention to detail and persistence in pursuing this story is incredible. I admire the commitment that was require thoroughly research this topic and how carefully it was laid out to take the reader through the same journey of Lev¿s life. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 15, 2005

    THE DISORIENTALIST

    This book should be entitled 'The Disorientalist'-not 'The Orientalist'. To start with Tom Reiss completely dismisses any serious role for Baroness Elfriede Ehrenfels in her involvement in writing two novels under her pseudonym Kurban Said, one of which is the world-class novel 'Ali&Nino' published in German in 1937. Note that at the time all official book registries in Germany identify 'Ali&Nino' with Elfriede Ehrenfels, not Essad Bey, not Lev Nussimbaum. But Reiss' attempt at sleuthing out the details in the guise of scholarly research is also responsible for his not being able to furnish one single substantial proof in the process of trying to uncover Essad Bey's true identity. Instead Reiss transforms Essad Bey into a Jew, who he insists was forced by circumstances to disguise himself into numerous identities throughout his life. Reiss doesn't seem aware that by dealing with a biography of an unfathomable personality in a strictly sensationalist and superficial manner, he is contributing even more to building up barriers. This, in a time when real understanding between different peoples and their respective cultural and religious heritages is of vital necessity to us all.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2005

    A Wondrous Tale

    What a rich and compelling and frankly wondrous book. It's the story of a Jew, Lev Nussimbaum, born in the oil-rich town of Baku, who flees the Bolsheviks as a young man, and in a sense never stops having to flee the forces of extreme ideology thoughout his life. He turns up in Berlin during the upheaval of the 20s and 30s and re-invents himself as a Muslim princeling, and under a new name writes a dozen or so best-selling books. When Nazi racism threatens, he takes on yet another name, and writes a minor classic -- whose real authorship has been in dispute ever since. Until now. He then becomes still another figure, one who meets a tragic end. In many ways, it's the story of loss, and Lev's nostaligic, ongoing attempt to recreate something that may never have even existed. As Reiss's tapestry of the complex time begins to show, there's a sense that the easy histories we learned in school never really existed either. The effect for the reader, however, is never one of nostalgia for our old assumptions but of vastly gained insight into and the actual, often strange workings of political, ideological and, most especially, personal belief.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2005

    The Many Faces of Essad Bey

    In this gripping account of an Azeri Jewish writer named Lev Nussimbaum who reinvented himself as a Muslim Caucasian prince named Esad Bey and became the toast of Weimar Berlin, Tom Reiss sketches a parallel history of Europe and Asia between the wars. Nussimbaum was both a walking clash of civilizations and a talented writer who left us one great romantic novel, Ali and Nino, the story of a doomed love affair between a Muslim boy and a Christian girl set in Baku during the final years of World War I. Nussimbaum himself came of age in Baku, a cosmopolitan, oil-fuelled boomtown poised between Christian Europe and Islamic West Asia. To the people of this region, history itself must have seemed to be dissolving along with the Romanov and Ottoman Empires. It was the perfect era for a master shape changer whose own biography is no less fantastical than those of his characters. After a comfortable childhood in Baku, where his father made his fortune in the oil industry, Nussimbaum spent the remainder of his brief life as a stateless refugee. Reiss follows the young writer from Baku to Iran, Istanbul, Germany, Austria, the United States and finally the resort town of Positano on the Italian Amalfi coast, where Nussimbaum died penniless and alone after experiencing international literary celebrity while still in his twenties. Reiss definitively solves the 80-year mystery of Esad Bey's identity. His intimate, ironic portrait turns many histories on their heads, not least the beginnings of Soviet communism and German fascism. But in the end, 'The Orientalist' is a tragic story of one man's doomed effort to transcend history. Like some Hegelian surfer dude, Nussimbaum was ultimately crushed by the same wave that had carried him to stardom.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 14, 2013

    I don't have the background to assess the historical accuracy of

    I don't have the background to assess the historical accuracy of this book.  If you can suspend disbelief for a few days, you will be taken on a journey you will not soon forget.  The story is mesmerizing, unlike anything I have ever read.  You must read this book.  

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2009

    Detailed account and adventure of a Jew who survived Nazi Germany, Russian Revolution becoming a celebrated adventurer.

    A detailed biography and adventurous life of a Jew who through strength of will overcame adversity, prejudice and danger to live an unusual existence.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 30, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 4, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2008

    No text was provided for this review.

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