What Went Wrong?

A friend recently recommended Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Before I could find a copy of it, I found Lewis’ What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. This short volume (161 pages) provided a very interesting history of Islam from the 1500’s to present day, focusing on the factors involved in Islam’s loss of world power and on Islam’s responses over the centuries to that loss. The nature of the book (a collection of lectures) provides a fairly logical way for the reader to process the information, although a few points are unnecessarily repeated and the scope of some of the later lectures overlaps the first ones a bit. That said, I learned a lot from Mr. Lewis. He covers the subject from a political view, a military view, a religious view and multiple cultural views. Throughout the book, Lewis does a good job of also differentiating between Turkish, Egyptian, Arabian and Persian “versions” of Islam (although his labels are more accurate than this listing). As noted in the Preface, the text was prepared prior to September 11, 2001. That had no impact at all on the value of the book, as it covers a tragic drama of centuries. The book is neither a primer on Islam nor on the Middle East, but a description of Islam’s “fall” and response.

For someone whose current knowledge of Islam comes only from religious and anti-religious books, What Went Wrong? was an accessible and interesting book.

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