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VINE VOICEon 14 July 2008
As a previous reviewer pointed out, post 9/11 the sales of this book have probably gone through the roof not least because Lewis has been (not so subltely) making comparisons between the Assassins and Al-Qaeda but also because every Al-Qaeda opponent on the planet has been jumping on the bandwagon.

Sadly, this book aside from the obvious that it was first published years before the events of 9/11 is a missed opportunity to study a little known Islamic group and instead, relies upon shock and scandal and instead of reading like a scholarly study of a subject reads more like something you would find in a tabloid.

The book begins with some history of the word Assassin and how it came into the English language then onto some early books that have been published on the subject in the West. The book then moves onto some brief studies of the subject by British scholars in India and the briefest of analysis of the current descendants of the Assassins who reside in that country. The book then covers nothing more than the sensationalist stories of "The old man of the mountains" Who dispatched deadly assassins to murder political opponents and scholars alike. Whose movement struck fear into its enemies and was finally defeated by a similarly ruthless movement, the Mongols of Genghis and Hulagu Khans.

The book just fails miserably in studying just who exactly the Assassins were. There is simply not enough on the background of the movement. The Assassins where the spiritual descendants of the Egyptian Fatimid (who later better known as the Ismaili) movement who followed and esoteric version of Islam which did indeed produce some great scholars in medicine and science. They were part of a wider movement in Islam (Such as the Ikhwan as-Safa) who while small in number, had a wide influence on Islam both Shia and Sunni from all aspects from science to Sufism.

The Nizari Ismaili, as the Assassins were known religiously were followers of a strand of Islam Sunnis refer to as a 'ghulat' or 'extremist' sect. This should not be seen in the context of violently extreme but rather extreme in their distance from the beliefs of Sunni Islam (Much in the same way as Zaidi Shia are referred to by Sunnis as 'moderate Shia') Why has Lewis not examined this aspect? Why has Lewis not studied the strands of Islam, the origins of the Nizari and their religious and political development? When the Nizari strongholds were finally breached by the Mongols the Shia scholar Nasruddin Tusi remarked at the vast libraries found there (It is also mentioned that many of their books were subsequently burned) Lewis rather treats us to pictures of Nizari mountain castles and stories of mass drunken orgies in defiance of Islam.

Why was there no examination of Nizari influence on other Shia groups? The Alevis of Turkey share almost the exact same beliefs as the Nizaris, ethnically they are from the same geographical area, history notes that the Nizaris made converts amongst the Turkomans and that Turkoman tribes were brought in bondage and then freed in Anatolia by Timur Khan. Was this too sensitive a subject to examine for a man who propagates Turkey as the beacon of democracy in the Middle East?

Lewis may even look to ibn Al-Athir (all be it briefly) for historical information on the Nizaris but keep in mind, he was a Sunni civil servant and had no love for the Nizaris and also keep in mind that his history book ran into volumes. Just how much of it do you think was taken up by a group that for Sunnis formed but a blip in history?

And lets examine the Nizari practice of assassination. First of all they were not "The first Islamic terror group" as some have written. Secondly they did not "Invent the art of assassination" The Greeks and Persians practiced it. Jewish groups in the Jewish revolts practiced it. The Caliph Ali, Hassan and Hussain were assassinated. Was this the be all and end all of their beliefs or rather was this the reaction of a minority group against a large opponent (both Abbasid and Crusader) who would easily and happily crush them given the chance? Was it just random assassinations or rather just to silence opponents (Such as the threat against the Sunni scholar Fakr al-Din Razi)? This is in sharp contrast to Al-Qaidi whose methods are to "Liberate the Muslim world" etc....

An entirely missed opportunity with far more faults that could be brought out but frankly too numerous to mention.

Read the books of Schimmel, Nasr, Corbin and Chodkiewicz. All of whom have examined the beliefs and practices of the Ismaili Muslims. If you want a bit of shock, horror, first terrorists in......., lets get these wackos..... then this may be the book for you.
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on 23 July 2013
Ive read this book before in paperback its really interesting and thought prvoking glad to find it again love my kindle books
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on 13 December 2005
This book about the Ismailis and the Assassins could have been fascinating but it is only a compilation of facts and details about individuals and their actions. We never get into the deeper layers of their ideology, theology and religious beliefs and practices. They are connected to the Shi’ites agains the Sunni’ites but it is not clearly shown and explained what’s the difference between the two sides and what’s more how the Ismailis get into this picture. Altogether the vision of Islam given by this book is that of a world rent by factions, ambitions, personal power, military achievements, and the basic and irrepressible desire and need to be cruel and shed a lot of blood through torturing and making people suffer. This is a caricature. Never the filiation between the other semitic religions that judaism, christianism and the zealot branch of both in the first century before Christ and the first century after Christ were, is shown, stated or explained and explored. Islam is one descendent of the Bible, Old and New Testament. What’s more this vast expanse of territory from the Mediterranean sea to India was one of the most brilliant melting pots of science, culture and philosophy, the Ismailis among them just as much as the Sh’ites or the Sunni’ites. This is not explored, nor explained. Hence this book accumulates factual details and data but never reaches any level of explanation, understanding and the desire to go and discover that enormously progressive and powerful culture and science. At the time of the Crusades, the west was definitely, at all levels, a lot less advanced than the Middle East and Islamic countries. It is these Crusades that started the movement thet will eventually lead to the freezing of these societies in some kind of ossified ancient state out of which it has become extremely difficult to move, and such a move has to be endogenous, to come from inside.
Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, Université Paris Dauphine, Université Paris I Panthéon Sorbonne
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on 24 April 2011
I find history like this very interesting and although not all the answers are to be found in this one book about the Assassins, which is the reason for me to purchase this book, I think that it has a lot to offer for anyone with an interest in them. As I have found from looking in to other historical subjects that are shrouded in mystery and myth, such as King Arthur (which many may not regard as historical at all) you need to take a look at as many different books and papers as possible. This is the only way that the reader can come to there own opinion on a subject that most of the facts we have are sketchy at best and that in each book you read is going to be written in the view of the author.
This book, unless you are very well informed about all aspects of Islam and life during this period, will leave you needing to answer more questions rather than less. This is not unusual when dealing with history, I quite often find my self stopping half way through a book and starting another to read about something else that I have come across that I must know about. I was reading about the crusades when i came across the assassins, which i had some knowledge of and just had to find out more so I stopped reading got this book and will now finish the book on the crusades.
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on 19 April 2009
Usually anything by Lewis on Islam is worth reading and this is no exception. It tells the story of the `Assassins', the original suicide killers, notorious in the Middle Ages for infiltrating and murdering the elite of their enemies. Based mainly in the north of Iran they were an off shoot of the Ismailis, who are themselves an off shoot from the Shias. It is solid serious history. But it has three other great things going for it as well. First there is the wonderful almost Tolkien like legends surrounding the sect's origins and reputation. They were started by `The Old Man Of The Mountain' who blocked off a valley in the north of Iran, and created a paradise of gardens and rivers of `wine, milk, honey, and water' and brought in beautiful women. His soldiers captured and drugged young men who would then wake up in his paradise and enjoy themselves. When the Old Man wanted one of these youths to murder his enemies he would have them drugged again and brought into his castle where they almost felt they were in the presence of a god. He would ask them where they have come from and they would reply, `Paradise'. He would give them a dagger, the assassination order, and then explain that once dead, angels would bring him back to the very same Paradise the youth had already tasted. Think of what today's suicide attackers have been missing out on! Such was the youth's readiness to die for the Old Man that he would even parade them on top of a wall for visiting guests and with a nod of his head they would dive to their deaths. Secondly there is the story of how this community veered from antinomianism when one of their leaders announced the end of the law - prayers were deliberately said away from Mecca; there was feasting in the middle of the fast; and lots of wine was drunk - and then back again to orthodoxy, or at least Shia orthodoxy. Whether there was law or no law, the punishment for not following the decree of the leader was the same: stoning. As Lewis says this sort of drastic re-inventing of the faith is typical of sects which are intellectual cul-de-sacs. This brings us to the third point: the fact that though this group were widely feared for a time for their spectacular successes, including a king of Crusader Jerusalem, ultimately their terrorism failed. They were completely crushed by the Mongols. Confronted by an army determined to root out any threat to their rule, they soon capitulated. Originally written in 1967, but re-issued with a new preface in 2003, Lewis no doubts wanted to pass comment for those contending with terrorism today.
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on 13 September 2014
Despite having studied The Crusades and this period of history, and this region, in so much detail at university, this book has come as quite a revelation.

Fills in many of the blanks and important background which is missing from the popular perception of this mysterious sect.
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on 13 November 2013
The author tells the story of the Assasins in a rigorous way. It's a book of history, not of folktales and legends. For the readers who want to know more and don't look for the sensational.
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on 6 July 2014
fantastic book if a bit difficult to read, defiantly worth it though and as for my personal vocabulary, it has increased dramatically.
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