13 of 17 people found the following review helpful
masterful, but flawed,
This review is from: What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (Paperback)
Bernard Lewis is a master of his subject, and a master of literary style. His work is both informative and revealing with regards to the history of Islam and its present situation in the world, which in turn leads to an alternative perception of Western society. Most importantly, he is strikingly imaginative and innovative in his approach to the question - the analagous relationship mentioned below between polyphonic music, democracy and football provides an excellent example of that.
There are two criticisms I would make though. Firstly, (and it is a minor criticism) Lewis' tone can be condescending and patronising as he characterises Muslim attempts to imitate, or their outright rejection of, Western values. Sure, it's funny - but it lacked a bit of empathy and was more of an antrhopologist's outside-looking-in view of Islam rather than an insider's knowledge.
Secondly, Lewis does not answer the question "What went wrong?" and the related question (at least, I think it is inherently related) WHY did it go wrong? Having finished the book, I'm not sure as to when, what or why it changed, but I'm very aware that Islam's relationship with to West DID change and what the symptoms of that change are - and (and this is where Lewis is very good) what the crucial relevant differences between the two political and social cultures are.
The big question is tackled incisively but all too briefly in the 'Conclusion', the structure of which could suggest a better approach to the specific question. Issues are raised here that could have been drawn out, and in some cases really should have, in the main body of the work - Lewis appears to summarise what has not been expounded. And interesting ideas such as the Judeo-Christian/Judeo-Islamic nature of Israel deserve exploring, not confining to a single paragraph.
In essence, there's no argument running throughout the book that can be neatly tied up in a conclusion as its provocative title would suggest. This isn't surprising - it's formed, in a large part, from lectures and thus wasn't conceived as a coherent whole.
And it isn't actually particularly important - the question of "what went wrong?" and why, would take up a vast scholarly tome and this clearly isn't what Lewis was aiming for. What he sets out to do he achieves in style - a lucid, informative and illuminating and account of the dynamic interaction of Islam with the West.
In fact, exactly what he says in the subtitle.
JUST CHANGE THE DAMN TITLE, LEWIS.