In this readable and wide ranging book, Bernard Lewis charts the successive transformations of the Middle East, beginning with the two great empires, the Roman and the Persian, and covering the growth of Christianity, the rise and spread of Islam, the waves of invaders from the east, the Mongol hordes of Jengiz Khan, the rise of the Ottoman Turks, and the changing balance of power between the Muslim and Christian worlds.
In the end, Lewis concludes, a question mark hangs over the Middle East. Though outside powers will undoubtedly continue to intervene whenever their energy supplies are put at risk, they will not, as in the heyday of European imperialism, attempt to impose their will and their way of life. The Islamic countries of the region may thus, for the first time in centuries, be left to solve their internal problems on their own. And how will they solve them? Will they, Lewis asks, "unite for peace," "unite for jihad," or "go the way of Yugoslavia and Somalia" and disintegrate? Historians are not called upon to be prophets, but this magisterial tour of 2,000 years, nothing if not realistic, suggests a parlous future for a region cursed with more than its share of authoritarian regimes.
Birthplace of three religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, a crossroads of inter-continental trade and a major centre of ideas, the Middle East has played a leading role in the history of the world. Successively invaded (and transformed) by the Romans, Persians, Mongols, Ottomans, Mamluks and Iranian Safavids, the Middle East has for 13 centuries been the sustaining core of Islamic civilization in an often bitter confrontation with Western Christendom, yet making at least as great a contribution to the life of Christian Mediterranean Europe as Europe in the last 200 years has, by its technological dominance, made on the heartlands of Islam. At a time when a new chapter seems to be opening up in the rivalry between Islam and the West, this accessible and wide-ranging survey of 2000 years of Middle Eastern history by one of our leading Middle East scholars deserves to be widely read. (Kirkus UK)