Notes on a Century
Reflections of a Middle East Historian
Publication Date: November 26, 2013
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The memoirs of the preeminent historian of the Middle East and bestselling author of What Went Wrong?
Few historians end up as major historical actors in their own right. At the age of 96, Bernard Lewis has both witnessed and participated in some of the key events of the last century, from his time working for MI6 in London and throughout the Middle East during World War II to his sudden transformation into a sought-after interpreter of the Middle East after September 11. When we think of the Middle East, we think of it in terms that he defined and articulated.
A brilliant storyteller with an extraordinary gift for languages, Lewis regales us with tales of memorable encounters with Edward Kennedy, the Shah of Iran, Golda Meir, Muammar Qaddafi, Pope John Paul II, King Hussein, and Dick Cheney, among many others. Witty, lively, and movingly written, this exceptional memoir offers an intimate look at the key events of the twentieth century through the eyes of one of the most vital historians of our time.
Bernard Lewis is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor of Near Eastern Studies Emeritus at Princeton University and the author of many critically acclaimed and bestselling books, including What Went Wrong? and Crisis of Islam. He lives in Pennsylvania.
Buntzie Ellis Churchill served for twenty-three years as the president of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia and for a decade hosted the daily radio show World Views.
Over his long academic career, Bernard Lewis has arguably become the world's greatest historian of the Middle East. Now, at 96, Lewis turns his attention inward in Notes on a Century, a memoir that looks back on his life, work and legacy. More at NPR.org
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“Notes on a Century is an extraordinary work: erudite, witty, and profound. In summing up his long life in pursuit of knowledge of the region that has fascinated him since childhood, Bernard Lewis has produced a book that will engage, inform, and entertain the scholar and layman alike.”
“Whether writing about the early history of the Arabs or the development of the modern Turkish state, Mr. Lewis has always been unusually alert to nuance and ambiguity; he is wary of his sources and tests them against other evidence. . . . He has evinced not only an unswerving commitment to historical truth and a hatred of what he calls ‘the falsification of history’ but also a passionate, at times obsessive, curiosity about other peoples, other places. . . . No matter how recondite or exotic his subject matter, he writes incisively and with unobtrusive elegance.”
—Wall Street Journal
“Lewis has led a staggeringly productive life—publishing a jaw-dropping 32 books—and seems to have had more fun than any department worth of more somber professors. . . . We are fortunate to have this chatty memoir of reminiscences of scholarly discovery and stimulating encounters with everyone from Isaac Stern to Scoop Jackson to the shah of Iran.”—The Washington Post
“Few 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. . . . We did not need this book to tell us how impressive an intellect Mr. Lewis has or what a superbly informed historian he is, but it reminds us nonetheless of all this. As it does of what a charming and attractive personality he has been graced with, enabling him to draw attention so easily to what he has to impart.”
—The Washington Times
“Thoughtful, outspoken words from a sage who has lived his share of history . . . In episodic, wittily composed chapters, Lewis addresses salient events in his career as a historian of the Near and Middle East. . . . He writes frankly of his long tenure at Princeton, the dicey Israel-Palestinian crisis, and the eclipse of secularism in the Muslim world.”
“Lewis looks back at his achievements as a founder of the discipline of Islamic history, a prodigious scholar and writer, and a tireless traveler who forged relationships with scholars and government leaders all over the world. . . . 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. This memoir by an intellectual committed to a relentless search for historical understanding of a complex society is highly recommended.”
“A much-needed corrective . . . Lewis’ understanding reflects more than the usual journalism or scholarship. As a British intelligence officer, a multilingual translator of Middle Eastern poetry, and a tireless traveler through remote regions, Lewis has actually participated in developments shaping the Middle East.”
—Bryce Christensen, Booklist (starred review)