‘NOTES ON A CENTURY’ – AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY MIDDLE EAST HISTORIAN BERNARD LEWIS

NOTES ON A CENTURY: REFLECTIONS OF A MIDDLE EAST HISTORIAN
By Bernard Lewis
Viking, $28.95, 388 pages, illustrated

The Washington Times on June 29, 2012, published a review of the memoirs of noted Middle East historian Bernard Lewis. Lewis was born in London in 1916 and has made his home in the United States for nearly 40 years. Still fewer, whatever their age, could produce a book as witty, erudite and humorous as this engaging autobiography, which, alongside these lighter characteristics, is also packed with learning and wisdom. It is no exaggeration to say that it is the distillation of a long, attentive and productive life as a scholar and engaged intellectual. Excerpts below:

He writes movingly about friends and family, of his upbringing, of how the world nearly gained one more barrister but instead got a peerless scholar of the Middle East.

It is fascinating to read of Mr. Lewis‘ work in British intelligence during World War II… From the Shah of Iran to Pope John Paul II, from Moammar Gadhafi to Golda Meir – Mr. Lewis can give you an up-close and personal glimpse guaranteed to be as incisive as it is telling.

But it’s not all good times and jokes. When it comes to adversaries like the late Edward Said, Mr. Lewis rightly pulls no punches and gives no quarter about his pernichcious influence on the academy:

“Although I personally was not affected in my career by these insults, many people in the earlier stages of their careers have suffered serious damage. They find themselves in a position where they either have to conform or get out. The Saidians now control appointments, promotions, publications and even book reviews with a degree of enforcement unknown in the Western Universities since the eighteenth century. The situation in Near East studies is a great detriment to the state of scholarship in the field.”

Summing up at the very end of this book, Mr. Lewis writes:

“I have loved my life. I have had a rewarding career. Thirty-two books translated into twenty-nine languages isn’t bad. I have explored places and cultures and been able to play with fifteen languages. Even those who dislike me or with whom I have heartily disagreed are usually interesting and sometimes stimulating. I have been, and am, very fortunate.”

So are we, his grateful readers.

Comment: Hopefully Dr. Lewis’ memoirs can help unlock the hold of Edward Said’s unfortunate influence over Western universities.

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2 Responses to “‘NOTES ON A CENTURY’ – AUTOBIOGRAPHY BY MIDDLE EAST HISTORIAN BERNARD LEWIS”

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