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The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years
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As the birthplace of three religions as and many civilizations, the Middle East has for centuries been a center of knowledge and ideas, of techniques and commodities, and, at times, of military and political power. With the histoical -- and still growing -- importance of the Middle East in modern politics, historian Bernard Lewis's cogent and scholarly writing brings a wider understanding of the cultures of the region to a popular audience.
In this immensely readable and broad history, Lewis charts the successive transformations of the Middle East, beginning with the two great empires, the Roman and the Persian, whose disputes divided the region two thousand years ago; the development of monotheism and the growth of Christianity; the astonishingly rapid rise and spread of Islam over a vast area; the waves of invaders from the East and the Mongol hordes of Jengiz Khan; the rise of the Ottoman Turks in Anatoia, the Mamluks in Egypt and the Safavids in Iran; the peak and decline of the great Ottoman states; and the changing balance of power between the Muslim and Christian worlds.
Within this narrative, Lewis details the myriad forces that have shaped the history of the Middle East: the Islamic relgion and legal system; the traditions of government; the immense variety of trade and the remarkably wide range of crops; the elites -- military, commercial, religious, intellectual and artistic -- and the commonality, including such socially distinct groups as slaves, women and non-believers.
He finally weaves these threads together by looking at the pervasive impact in modern times of Western ideas and technology, and the responses and reactions they evoked. Rich with vivid detail and the knowledge of a great scholar, this brilliant survey of the history and civilizations of the Middle East reveals the huge Islamic contribution to European life, as well as the European contribution to the islamic world.
This "brief history of the last 2,000 years," by the 20th century's preeminent historian of the Islamic world, is written with its author's customary wit and gravity, sympathy and objectivity, breadth and precision. As in all his many works, Bernard Lewis is here neither an old-fashioned chronicler nor a with-it historical revisionist but rather a master distiller, one who combines a phenomenal range of knowledge with a humane temperament and a powerfully synthesizing mind.
In 400 pages, drawing upon a full palette of primary material from every imaginable source, The Middle East traces the political, economic, religious, social, cultural, and technological currents that flowed across a broad swath of territory from Morocco to the Central Asian steppes.
Though he strikes a note of cautious optimism with regard to the half-century of Arab-Israeli conflict, he also reminds us that that conflict is just one of many in the wider Middle East, a place that today is "more dangerous" than ever before.
In the end, Lewis concludes, a question mark hangs over the Middle East. Though outside powers will undoubtedly continue to intervene whenever their energy supplies are put at risk, they will not, as in the heyday of European imperialism, attempt to impose their will and their way of life. The Islamic countries of the region may thus, for the first time in centuries, be left to solve their internal problems on their own.
And how will they solve them? Will they, Lewis asks, "unite for peace," "unite for jihad," or "go the way of Yugoslavia and Somalia" and disintegrate? Historians are not called upon to be prophets, but this magisterial tour of 2,000 years, nothing if not realistic, suggests a parlous future for a region cursed with more than its share of authoritarian regimes.
—Commentary Magazine, April 1997, Robert B. Satloff
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About the Author
Bernard Lewis is Emeritus Professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. His many books, which have been translated into more than twenty languages, include The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day, Semites and Anti-Semites, The Muslim Discovery of Europe, The Emergence of Modern Turkey, and The Arabs in History. He lives in Princeton, New Jersey.
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