Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian is an extraordinary work: erudite, witty, and profound. In summing up his long life in pursuit of knowledge of the area that has fascinated him since childhood, Bernard Lewis has produced a book that will engage, inform and entertain the scholar and layman alike
Here, he conveys the intellectual curiosity and power that has enabled him to transmit to both academics and general readers an understanding of the development of Islam as a faith and a culture along with the rise and decline of Islamic political power. With scholarly rigor and graceful, witty prose, he also offers insights about the nature of history, cultural identity, and literary values. (Verdict) This memoir by an intellectual committed to a relentless search for historical understanding of a complex society is highly recommended for both specialists and interested general readers.
In a lifelong pursuit of an unbiased and accurate historical method, he has often served as a kind of cultural diplomat, lecturing in America and translating for dignitaries, and he urges the guarding of one's "scholarly impartiality" against prejudice. He writes frankly of his long tenure at Princeton, the dicey Israeli-Palestinian crisis, the eclipse of secularism in the Muslim world and the "dangerous trend...of intellectual protectionism" advocated by Edward Said et al.
Bernard Lewis beckons us as if from the mists of legend. A poet-scholar, linguist, observer and sometime participant in the great events of the Middle East for seven decades, the London-born scholar belongs more to the world of T.E. Lawrence than to ours. At 95, his prose is translucent and his recollection luminous...Lewis himself is one of the very last of a race of giants.
"Notes on a Century" is at once an autobiography and a statement of principle. Over the course of his long life, Mr. Lewis has met with everyone from Golda Meir to Moammar Gadhafi-and has bedded down in obscure Syrian villages and desert tents as well as sumptuous palaces. But his description of his beginnings is the most winning part of his account. Like the late man of letters John Gross, whose lovely 2002 memoir, "The Double Thread," describes growing up Jewish and English in London, Mr. Lewis evokes his Jewish-English childhood with great tenderness.
I am happy here to correct a misapprehension I shared with others. I knew that Lewis had advocated the first invasion of Iraq after its occupation of Kuwait. But I thought that he had urged the second invasion in 2003 as well. But that, he insists, "was another matter. This is sometimes ascribed to my influence with Vice President Cheney [whom he admired]. But the reverse is true. I did not recommend it. On the contrary, I opposed it. It is, to say the least, annoying to be blamed for something I did not do" He notes that, "I am nowhere mentioned in the 530 pages of Cheney's memoir, In My Time"
Bernard Lewis is the world's greatest living historian of the Middle East...Now approaching his 100th year, Lewis remains combative, but Notes on a Century is a largely mellow, meditative survey of a remarkable life.
Lewis begins and ends his autobiography by saying that he has been "fortunate". If you put his immense energy and talent to one side, you can agree that he has had extraordinarily good luck. He was lucky to become a historian before the age of super-specialisation; as the first professional teacher of Middle Eastern history in England, he could range as widely as he wished...With his expertise in Turkish, Persian, Arabic and Hebrew, he became the closest thing the world had to a Middle Eastern expert; no wonder he was in demand.
It is an indictment of the Western academic world that this pre-eminent connoisseur of the Islamic world should have been eclipsed on campus by the toxic influence of the late Edward Said, whom Lewis vanquished in debate and whose egregious errors he again exposes in his lucid, wise and mischievous memoir.
At the age of 95, Bernard Lewis has written (with the help of his partner) a fascinating account of his extraordinary life and the events and influences that have made him the world's most eminent historian on the Middle East. His admirably terse style and the freshness of his recollections could be the work of a man 30 years his junior but we are fortunate that he has waited until now to write his autobiography, for he can place the past 30 tumultuous years, with the rise of militant Islam and the Middle East in constant turmoil, in their historical context.
Now Lewis, who has just turned 96, has presented us with the gift of a well-written and very direct autobiography, Notes on a Century. As Lewis himself makes clear, he was a very serious and substantial force affecting the way the West viewed the Middle East many decades before al-Qaeda was spawned.
Notes on a Century offers sharp and often pessimistic observations on almost a hundred years of change in the Middle East and in Western academia. There are well-honed anecdotes, epigrams, jokes and puns...He chronicles his meetings with the famous: Pope John-Paul II, Henry Kissinger, King Hussein, Abba Eban, Dick Cheney, Walter Annenberg, Yitzhak Rabin, the Shah of Iran, Teddy Kolleck, Maummar Gaddafi and others.
When a wise man is speaking, it's best to sit back and listen. Bernard Lewis - whose published papers date back to 1937; who's comfortable in fifteen languages (though modest enough not to count south Gheg, given that he only translated from it via an Albanian-Serbo-Croat dictionary during his wartime service in military intelligence); who's been a professor at SOAS and Princeton; who first alerted the world to bin Laden's ranting, and has repeatedly been right about political transitions across the Middle East - has finally, aged ninety-five, found the time to write this most astute of autobiographies.
Dr. Lewis deploys a deft hand in helping us decipher the complexity of these historical events. He systematically presents, region by region, who the players are; what their goals are; and more importantly, what the U.S. and other international actors can do to respond to and proactively relate with the transformations that are occurring as a result of the "Arab Spring".
This is an elegant and simple book with a profound message about the enormous importance of accurately recording the past by one of the great historians of our era
The book looks at the events from the Second World War to the Arab Spring, and there is no better primer for anyone interested in this troubled region
At the age of 95, Professor Bernard Lewis, pre-eminent Middle East historian, is well-placed to reflect on nearly a century of events affecting the region.