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on 30 November 2002
Lewis is the Daniel Boorstin of Middle East historians. He brings the same sort of encyclopaedic knowledge to his subject. The vast scope of his erudition is evident on every page in this volume. In fact, if there is anything to quibble about, it may be that few readers will be able to keep pace with him as he traverses Middle-Eastern history and landscape.
Part of the difficulty in keeping up comes from the way in which Lewis presents his information. This is not your typical linear narrative, starting at a particular era and then ploughing forward through time. Though there is an overall progression (we start out in the Roman era and end up in current times), the author also often backtracks when discussing different aspects of the civilizations he covers. So while the book starts out in a relatively chronological manner in the first few chapters(Romans>Byzantines-Crusades>Mongol Invasions>Turkic Ascendency-Ottomans), we suddenly detour to Part IV of the book, entitled "Cross-Sections." Lewis then proceeds to break down different societal components such as "The State," "The Economy," "The Elites," etc. in which he backtracks to provide additional details about groups he has earlier portrayed. This is where I for one, who am looking for enlightenment on these subjects and have no real background scholastically speaking, had a hard time keeping track. I consider myself at least a moderately attentive reader, and a lover of history from Herodotus to Gibbon to Parkman to Tuchman, but felt swamped at times here from the sheer wealth and breadth of information. One also had better be up on their geography from about six different eras in that part of the world. Though there are a series of maps in the appendix, obscure towns, countries and dynasties are paraded forth at a rate that is taxing for the general reader. While we may be familiar with place-names such as Mecca, Medina or even Basra, how many western readers are going to have a mental image of the area that Yathrib sits in? or Nishapur? or Bukhara? The maps don't really help either, as the regions that have the most obscure towns are in areas that are the most darkly shaded, and the print is so fine, it's impossible to make the names out.
All that said, if you want to learn about a region that up until recently not many westerners were really all that interested in, Lewis is an excellent teacher. Just be warned that he is rather a dry lecturer. He's not a "school of color" historian. He's an academic and a pure scholar. There are vitually no anecdotal details. No human interest. No exciting passages or descriptions of great battles. He is a purveyor of information and you will come away from reading <The Middle East> with a lot more information than you came in with. If, like me, you think being at least reasonably well-informed at times such as these is important, you will want to investigate this book.
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on 23 August 2011
In a sweeping and vivid survey, renowned historian Bernard Lewis reviews and analyses the history of the Middle East since the birth of Christianity through our modern era, focusing on the successive transfigurations that have configured it. A rather concise but comprehensive overall examination of the last two millennia of the Middle East history. This work is one of the best single volume history of the region, written by a non local authority, like Horani, on the Middle East in Historiography. While the rich tradition, the broader cultural, and linguistic developments that shaped the center of the ancient world, could be elaborated and read by by other specialists in the particular field.

Islam is at the book's core, since its advent that started early, in the seventh century. The reader may occasionally feel this is a book on the history of Islam in the Middle East, rather than the multicultural Middle East, I know of, even if the author view point advocates that Islam was the defining factor for the whole region since its emergence from the Arabian peninsula like a locust like invasion of the green field of Christian population, that erupted in the mid seventh century. Lewis' work as a whole, and this book in particular does not support "Orientalism," Edward Said's defining work on the relations between the Arabs and the West.

Scholarly yet accessible, Lewis' elegently written book, satisfies its stated mission to explore through two thousand years of the immense and vigorously active history of a region that has thrived and declined under numerous political powers, in just few hundred pages. But Lewis succeeded to provide an unbiased overview of Middle Eastern history from the Roman annexation of Egypt through the doors leading to the October war and Arab Spring, so compellingly.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 12 February 2006
If you are looking for a detailed history of the Middle East, this is an excellent place to start. Lewis uses his vast knowledge of Islam and the Middle East to write this book and it provides an exceptionally detailed narrative to the history of the Middle East and some of the origins to society of today. The focus is very much on the Islamic religion and the society that developed from that, with its battle against neighbouring empires (notably Byzantium/Ottoman).
If I had to make a criticism I would say I found the middle section a little heavy going… the first third of the book details the origin of society in the Middle East in particular focussing on the origins of races/tribes; the final third of the book describes the role of the Middle East in world affairs over the past 200 years, notably focussing on wars in the 20th century and the discovery of oil (at the very end).
That said it is fairly readable if you are looking at it for more than purely reference purposes, and I certainly find myself understanding the origins of the Middle East far better than I did before.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 26 January 2006
“The Middle East” provides the reader with a well written, fairly easy to follow history of the region over the last two thousand years. I found that it helped draw together diverse facts which I had heard over time. The stories of Byantines and Ottomans, Crusaders and Saracens, Persians, Arabs and Israelis are skillfully interwoven. The history is approached from many perspectives, including religious, political, economic, literary, artistic and others. The story flowed from era to era with hardly a ripple.
I was surprised at the emphasis placed on various themes in the history. For all the controversy over the Crusades, they seemed to be mentioned almost in passing.
One test of a book is whether it helps the reader understand the world of today. This one passes! From the explanation of the evolution of Islamic government over time I obtained a better understanding of the allure for some of a unified Muslim World. “The Middle East” is a valuable read for one searching for an understanding of this perplexing part of our world.
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on 26 March 1999
This is a general book about Middle Eastern history. It does not provide much detail or description of the numerous events that have shaped the region but it does offer many brilliant observations that give the reader a better insight and understanding of the development of Middle Eastern cultures.
This book should be supplemented by a more concise account of historic events in order for the reader to better comprehend the evolution of the region. In conclusion I found the book very interesting and insightful and I enjoyed it very much.
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on 13 December 2012
No complaints. The book in its paper back edition is as it was expected. I would recommend this to any one who is interested
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on 16 April 1997
This book, by the generally acknowledged "dean" of Middle East studies and Islamic history, is a masterful synthesis of two thousand years' worth of events and developments in the Middle East, from its pre-Islamic beginnings to the present day. Bernard Lewis weaves a cogent tapestry out of a bewildering array of facts to present a cohesive and intelligible portrait of the primary forces at work in that region of the world throughout time.

The book ends with Bernard Lewis speculating over what the future might hold for the Middle East and the Muslim world now that there is only one superpower left in the world and now that the major European powers have pretty much withdrawn from the region and no longer exert such a "heavy hand." Bernard Lewis's comments and musings are tempered by his historian's natural reticence to comment or opine on the future, but nonetheless I found his insights helpful.

In terms of where Bernard Lewis's book fits in with other books, I think Lewis is unrivaled as an historian of the Middle East and of the Muslim world generally. The book is similar to other books insofar as Lewis provides a history of the Middle East over the last 2,000 years (several thousand books have probably been written on that large subject alone). So, I think it covers the same subject matter, objectively speaking, as other history books. But Lewis gives us insights and ties events together in a way other historians do not. His writing style is also a pleasure compared to the turgid prose of some others in the field.

I ended up having my appetite whetted by Lewis's musings on the future. If other readers feel similarly, they may want to read Anthony J. Dennis's excellent book "The Rise of the Islamic Empire and the Threat to the West." Unlike Lewis, Dennis does not set out to provide an exhaustive and comprehensive history of the Muslim Middle East over the last 2,000 years. Rather, Dennis pulls significant strands and discusses significant or "watershed" developments and events which tend to support his thesis that political Islam functions much like nationalism does in other parts of the world, and furthermore that fundamentalist Islam may very well serve as the basis for the political unification of some or all of the traditional Muslim world (the "birth of an empire", see middle chapters of his book). In essence, Anthony Dennis picks up where Bernard Lewis left off. As someone outside the academy (Dennis holds Middle East history and other degrees but is apparently a practicing lawyer and human rights activist not an academician), Dennis is not afraid to speculate on possible future power shifts in that part of the world. Lewis appears uncomfortable making such predictions or educated estimates. I found Lewis matchless in the historical sphere and Dennis similarly breathtaking in looking ahead in an intelligent and highly creative fashion to possible future developments in the Middle East (particularly within the world of political Islam). Would recommend both books be read in tandem.
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on 19 September 2003
i found this book educational as it covered aspects of the middle easts economy, religion, culture and social aspects, as well as education systems. i would therefore recommend it highly to people interested in these specific areas, perhaps for research purposes. however as a layman interested in general history for the sake of history i was a bit disappointed with the book. the book is divided into two sections - the first being exactly what i wanted, a general introduction to the history of the middle east, however this only lasted for about a quater to a third of the book. after this it got a bit too spacific for a general light reader, and became a bit of a struggle to get through.
it was however very well researched and put together, and most definatly educational!
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on 7 February 2012
This is a well researched and inciteful work. It puts the current issues in the middle east into perspective. How the past has shaped the conflict there.
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on 16 June 2014
Bought this as part of the 5 for my coursework. I found this very useful and the writing makes it an easy read that's also interesting!
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