Arabian NightmaresIssue: Spring 2002
Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong?: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (New York: Oxford University, 2002), 180 pp., $23.
There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, about a scholar who wrote a book of a million words on his subject. Asked why it had to be so long, this scholar replied that he did not have the time to write a shorter book. At rather regular intervals, Bernard Lewis publishes short books on one or another aspect of Islam, its history, and its cultural or political expressions in all periods up to the present. Each the fruit of a lifetime of scholarship, the books in this sequence have a character and a wisdom all their own. The tone is dispassionate though often sprightly, the argument authoritative, the supporting detail fresh, absorbing, and taken from an immense range of original sources. Lewis is master of the major languages of the Middle East and Europe. Now in his mid-eighties, he is the most emeritus of professors, an orientalist in the best sense of that great tradition. They don't come like that anymore.