Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian

Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian

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by Bernard Lewis, Ralph Lister
     
 

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Few historians end up as historical actors in their own right, but Bernard Lewis has both witnessed and participated in some of the key events of the last century. When we think of the Middle East, we see it in terms that he defined and articulated.

In this exceptional memoir he shares stories of his wartime service in London and Cairo, decrypting intercepts for

Overview

Few historians end up as historical actors in their own right, but Bernard Lewis has both witnessed and participated in some of the key events of the last century. When we think of the Middle East, we see it in terms that he defined and articulated.

In this exceptional memoir he shares stories of his wartime service in London and Cairo, decrypting intercepts for MI6, with sometimes unexpected consequences. After the war, he was the first Western scholar ever invited into the Ottoman archives in Istanbul. He coined the term “clash of civilizations” in the 1950s, when no one imagined that political Islam would one day eclipse communism. A brilliant raconteur with an extraordinary gift for languages (he mastered thirteen), he regales us with tales of memorable encounters with Edward Kennedy, the Shah of Iran, Golda Meir, and Pope John Paul II among many others.

September 11 catapulted him onto the world stage as his seminal books What Went Wrong? and Crisis of Islam leaped onto bestseller lists. In his first major book since the second Iraq war, Lewis describes how—contrary to popular fiction—he opposed the war and reveals his exchanges with the Bush administration outlining his far greater concerns about Iran.

For more than half a century, Bernard Lewis has taken influential and controversial positions on contemporary politics and on the politics of academe. A man of towering intellect and erudition, he writes with the flair of Toynbee or Gibbon, only he has seen more and is much funnier.

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
…we are fortunate to have this chatty memoir, even if it is Lewis's earlier classics that will truly endure…We will miss Lewis when he is gone, and we will not find anyone to fill his chair.
—Warren Bass
Publishers Weekly
Lewis, the 95-year-old dean of Middle Eastern studies, has never been one to back down from a fight. The Princeton professor has been lionized for his great erudition and savaged for what critics see as profoundly simplistic and solipsistic commentary on modern events and for adhering to outdated methods and assumptions. Now he revisits forgotten grievances, settles old scores, and spins yarns of his war years as one would with one’s grandchildren. Suffused with a possibly ironic superciliousness (he talks of how his grandfather “begat” his progeny), his memoir seems to lack all sense of proportion, casting equally polemical and venomous brickbats at the student who consulted him but didn’t include him in his acknowledgments as at the French court that fined him for casting doubt on the Armenian genocide, at the time a major international incident. He says he was displeased with the invasion of Iraq, thinking that Iran would have been the more appropriate target. An intellectual of Lewis’s stature can, at this stage of his life, be forgiven for publishing such a confused, meandering, and self-serving account of his own career, but it is not clear why anyone should want to read it. Agent: Peter Bernstein, Peter Bernstein Literary. (May)
From the Publisher
 
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)

Library Journal
As he approaches age 96, Lewis (emeritus, Near Eastern studies, Princeton Univ.; What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East) 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. Well after his 1986 retirement from Princeton, he continued to write and lecture, becoming more outspoken in addressing the cultural clash between the West and the Islamic world and the threat from militant Islam, but he never lost his commitment to thorough investigation and careful exposition of his views. 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. VERDICT This memoir by an intellectual committed to a relentless search for historical understanding of a complex society is highly recommended for both specialists and interested general readers.[See Prepub Alert, 11/21/11.]—Elizabeth R. Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Evanston, IL
Kirkus Reviews
One of the first Orientalists in Britain shares his long historical trajectory, from London to the Middle East to Princeton. Lewis (Eastern Studies Emeritus/Princeton Univ.; The End of Modern History in the Middle East, 2011, etc.) was born in 1916 and is still astoundingly prolific and relevant, as demonstrated in recent bestsellers What Went Wrong? (2002) and The Crisis of Islam (2004). In episodic, wittily composed chapters, he addresses salient events in his career as a historian of the Near and Middle East--e.g., the process of learning numerous difficult languages and formative influences such as being born a nonreligious Jew in London. Enamored early on with exotic languages, he taught himself Italian and Hebrew, then at the University of London (his father wouldn't let his only child go to Oxford because "it was just a place where students spent all their time drinking and partying") he entered the relatively untried field of Oriental Studies and tackled Arabic. In this prewar era, his teachers followed a philological, textual approach, rather than historical. When he chose "the Eastern Question" in terms of the Ottoman Empire, he was encouraged to study the British, French, German and Russian documents, but not the Turkish. After the war, which Lewis spent with British intelligence doing decoding and translating work, he headed for Istanbul, determined to delve into the Ottoman archives, and emerged with an important early work, The Emergence of Modern Turkey (1961). In a lifelong pursuit of an unbiased and accurate historical method, he has often served as a kind of cultural diplomat, lecturing in America and translating for dignitaries, and he urges the guarding of one's "scholarly impartiality" and against prejudice. He writes frankly of his long tenure at Princeton, the dicey Israel-Palestinian crisis, the eclipse of secularism in the Muslim world and the "dangerous trend…of intellectual protectionism" advocated by Edward Said et al. Thoughtful, outspoken words from a sage who has lived his share of history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781455890774
Publisher:
Brilliance Audio
Publication date:
05/10/2012
Edition description:
Unabridged
Product dimensions:
7.12(w) x 6.50(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“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)

Meet the Author

Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University and the author of many critically acclaimed and bestselling books, including two number one New York Times bestsellers: What Went Wrong? and Crisis of Islam. The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years was a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. Internationally recognized as the greatest historian of the Middle East, he has received fifteen honorary doctorates and his books have been translated into more than twenty languages.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
May 31, 1916
Place of Birth:
London, England
Education:
B.A., University of London, 1936; Diplome des Etudes Semitiques, University of Paris, 1937; Ph.D., University of London,

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Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent read
Anonymous More than 1 year ago