The Middle East by Bernard Lewis

General Description (from
To gain a better understanding of contemporary Middle Eastern culture and society, which is steeped in tradition, one should look closely at its history. Bernard Lewis, Professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, considered one of the world’s foremost authorities on the Middle East, spans 2000 years of this region’s history, searching in the past for answers to questions that will inevitably arise in the future.

Drawing on material from a multitude of sources, including the work of archaeologists and scholars, Lewis chronologically traces the political, economical, social, and cultural development of the Middle East, from Hellenization in antiquity to the impact of westernization on Islamic culture. Meticulously researched, this enlightening narrative explores the patterns of history that have repeated themselves in the Middle East.

From the ancient conflicts to the current geographical and religious disputes between the Arabs and the Israelis, Lewis examines the ability of this region to unite and solve its problems and asks if, in the future, these unresolved conflicts will ultimately lead to the ethnic and cultural factionalism that tore apart the former Yugoslavia.

Why the President Should Read It
It is easy to forget that the United States has only existed for a little over 200 years, and has been the dominant superpower for even less time. The history of the Middle East, by contrast, goes back virtually to the dawn of civilization, and even today is forefront in much of what we define as “news”. In many ways, the Middle East has defined many presidencies, and appears ready to define many more. To ignore its history would be to ignore its present and shun the understanding that may lead to long-term peace in that region.

Personal Notes
This is not easy, pleasurable reading. It is full of facts, names, places, dates, and events too diverse, numerous, and foreign to keep track of. It is everything you hated about your history class in high school. However, if you want a broad picture of what has happened in the Middle East over the past 2,000 years, I’m not sure of a better way to attain it than by reading this book. It will not make you care about the Middle East or its people, but if you already care, then it will give you a good framework for understanding better the other books you may read about the Middle East in the future.