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Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 years by Bernard Lewis

2000 years in 387 pages - A great effort but somewhat unsatisfying.

Don't get me wrong - I am came to this book as a true fan of Bernard Lewis. His book The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror was one of the more thought-provoking books I read last year. However, this book is quite different than 'Crisis'. It's scope is massive, and it is a history book rather than a work of examination and informed conjecture.

Lewis addresses these shortcomings in his introduction and admits that it will be a difficult undertaking to do it well. He acknowledges that whatever format he chooses to cover this history, it will be unsatisfying for some. I give him credit for doing it well, but not as great as the other books and articles of his that I've read.

Bernard Lewis
The book is broken up into three general sections. The first is a general overview of the Middle East over the last 2,000 years. It is a bit overwhelming and frustrating. Overwhelming because the empires, dynasties and civilizations rise and fall so quickly that I felt like I was watching a time-elapsed movie. It was frustrating because there were some new areas (for me) that I really wished he would explore, such as the link between the Persians and the Jews of the Roman Era. I was also intrigued by the Coptic Christians, but learned little more than I already knew. Lewis is fairly skimpy with the life of Mohammed and the early spread of Islam as well. I give this section 3 stars.

The second section is called 'Cross sections' and it deals with specific topics throughout the 2,000 years of history, such as the military or agriculture. I give this section 4 stars.

The last section goes into the struggles the Middle East has experienced since Europe and the West have become such a vital part of the world since the European Renaissance. This is Lewis' strongest area and by far the most interesting to read. I give this section 5 stars.

So, the average of the 3 sections is 4 stars - my final score for this book.

This book can be found on Amazon.com here: The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years

Reviewed on August 2, 2005. 

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