God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

by David Levering Lewis
     
 

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"A furiously complex age; a powerful narrative."--New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
At the beginning of the eighth century, the Arabs brought a momentous revolution in power, religion, and culture to Dark Ages Europe. David Levering Lewis's masterful history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the rise of the prophet

Overview

"A furiously complex age; a powerful narrative."--New York Times Book Review, Editor's Choice
At the beginning of the eighth century, the Arabs brought a momentous revolution in power, religion, and culture to Dark Ages Europe. David Levering Lewis's masterful history begins with the fall of the Persian and Roman empires, followed by the rise of the prophet Muhammad and the creation of Muslim Spain. Five centuries of engagement between the Muslim imperium and an emerging Europe followed, from the Muslim conquest of Visigoth Hispania in 711 to Latin Christendom's declaration of unconditional warfare on the Caliphate in 1215. Lewis's narrative, filled with accounts of some of the greatest battles in world history, reveals how cosmopolitan, Muslim al-Andalus flourished--a beacon of cooperation and tolerance between Islam, Judaism, and Christianity--while proto-Europe, defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of hereditary aristocracy, religious intolerance, perpetual war, and slavery. A cautionary tale, God's Crucible provides a new interpretation of world-altering events whose influence remains as current as today's headlines.

Editorial Reviews

New York Times
In God's Crucible, answers to many urgent questions, currently in the public discourse, can be deduced.— Eric Ormsby
Washington Post
Lewis's treatment...is lucid, and his command of detail is encyclopedic....The book is erudite.— James B. Reston Jr.
Reza Aslan
“A magisterial work by one of America's greatest historians.”
Amartya Sen
“A wonderfully interesting contribution.”
Eric Ormsby - New York Times
“In God's Crucible, answers to many urgent questions, currently in the public discourse, can be deduced.”
James B. Reston Jr. - Washington Post
“Lewis's treatment...is lucid, and his command of detail is encyclopedic....The book is erudite.”
Eric Ormsby
…fast-paced and provocative new study…[Lewis's] darting juxtapositions of dynasties and of cultures give a vivid sense of the furious complexities of the age. He describes the simmering state of tribal relations in the region as constituting "a flammable symbiosis," but the phrase has wider scope. To judge from his account, that symbiosis was more pervasive than we usually realize, and not merely flammable, but dangerously combustible.
—The New York Times
James Reston Jr.
Lewis's treatment of Islam's explosive beginnings and its expansion across North Africa into Europe is lucid, and his command of detail is encyclopedic. His narrative is enriched by Arabic sources that are often ignored by European scholars…Lewis has made an important contribution to the growing body of literature on Muslim-Christian relations that has emerged after 9/11.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

This superb portrayal by NYU history professor Lewis of the fraught half-millennium during which Islam and Christianity uneasily coexisted on the continent just beginning to be known as Europe displays the formidable scholarship and magisterial ability to synthesize vast quantities of material that won him Pulitzer Prizes for both volumes of W.E.B. Du Bois.

In characteristically elegant prose, Lewis shows Islam arising in the power vacuum left by the death throes of the empires of newly Christianized Rome and Persian Iran, then sweeping out of the Middle East as a fighting religion, with jihad inspiring cultural pride in hitherto marginalized Arab tribes. After Charles Martel's victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 sent the Muslim invaders back south of the Pyrenees, the Umayyad dynasty consolidated its rule in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), forging a religiously tolerant, intellectually sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture whose achievements would eventually seed the Renaissance. Meanwhile, the virtually powerless Roman popes joined forces with ambitious Frankish leaders, from Pippin the Short to Charlemagne, to create the template for feudal Europe: a "religiously intolerant, intellectually impoverished, socially calcified, and economically primitive" society." The collapse of the Umayyad dynasty and the rise of local leaders who embraced Muslim fundamentalism as a means to power destroyed the vitality of al-Andalus, paving the way for the Crusades and the Christian reconquistaof Spain.

Lewis clear-sightedly lays out the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds, though his sympathies are clearly with cosmopolitandoctor/philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Musa ibn Maymun (better known in the West as Averroës and Maimonides), who represented "cultural eclecticism and creedal forbearance," sadly out of place in the increasingly fanatical 12th century. 8 pages of color illus., 4 maps. (Jan.)

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Library Journal

With an eye to modern headlines, Pulitzer-Prize winner Lewis (W.E.B. Du Bois) writes a cautionary tale of two civilizations that, rather than coexist, seemed bent on mutual destruction. He begins with a description of the political struggles between the Romans, later the Greco-Romans, and the Persians, a conflict that continued even after the forces of Islam conquered the Persians. Lewis traces both the rise of Islam and the West's recovery from the fall of Rome, explaining, for example, the internal power struggles of both East and West, and the differences between Shiite and Sunni. Using references perhaps chosen as familiar to U.S. readers, Lewis illustrates Islam's role in the evolution of European culture in the Middle Ages. The majority of the book deals with the period up to 960 C.E., with the last 40 pages discussing the 11th and 12th centuries. Lewis's convoluted writing style in this work, and his excessive use of anachronistic, extra-regional examples, such as Sherman's march through Georgia, make this book hard to recommend enthusiastically to scholars. Recommended for public libraries and some undergraduate libraries.
—Robert Harbison

Kirkus Reviews
Crowded yet sprightly account of Islam's definitive shaping of the world map during the so-called Dark Ages. While the Roman Empire was crumbling, writes Pulitzer Prize-winner Lewis (History/New York Univ.; W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963, 2000, etc.), Muhammad was taking up the sword for Allah. "The Arab jihad swept aside kingdoms and empires," he notes, achieving a tremendous revolution in power and culture in both Asia and fledgling Europe. Indeed, Lewis demonstrates beautifully, if the Franks under Charles Martel hadn't turned back the more enlightened Muslim invaders at Poitiers in 732, the continent might have been spared becoming "an economically retarded, balkanized, fratricidal Europe that, in defining itself in opposition to Islam, made virtues out of religious persecution, cultural particularism, and hereditary aristocracy." This thoughtful overview sheds welcome light on an increasingly relevant period of history. Avoiding the Eurocentric route, Lewis first traces the demise of the two superpowers, Graeco-Latin Rome and Persian Iran, grown exhausted through waging perpetual war on each other by the sixth century. Simultaneously, the self-proclaimed prophet Muhammad emerged from the proud, dominant Quraysh tribe of bustling Mecca to lead his people out of ignorance. He conquered Mecca with an army of believers before his death in 632, but it was his ardent followers who assembled the vital texts that would become the Qur'an and built a formidable military machine, sweeping over Syria, Persia, Egypt and the Maghreb. They crossed into Visigothic Iberia in 711, establishing a highly learned, tolerant culture that endured for 500 years.Lewis portrays a staggering number of personalities among the successive caliphs, as well as the righteous leaders of the marauding Lombards, Franks and Carolingians such as Clovis and Charlemagne. A work of clear-eyed scholarship-and occasionally challenging vocabulary.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780393333565
Publisher:
Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
01/12/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
769,077
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

Amartya Sen
A wonderfully interesting contribution.

Meet the Author

David Levering Lewis is a University Professor at New York University. Both volumes of his biography of W. E. B. Du Bois received the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in New York City.

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