Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Europe and the Islamic World: A History (or why I am often in love with European Orientalism)

I am now reading a new book (by John Tolan, Henry Laurens, and Gilles Veinstein)  that can only be described as magisterial.  It was originally published in French and is just now available in English by Princeton University Press.  A book like this does not get published frequently: it is a rarity.  If there is one book on the Middle East that you want to read in one year, it should be this.  The authors are hard-working, learned, and thoughtful.  I have not finished the book so I won't render a final judgment but I know what I can expect. This is a genre in European scholarship on the Middle East and Islam that is now rare in American scholarship: the genre based on encyclopedic knowledge of the subject.  Take chapter one, in a most fascinating narrative and analysis, they dispel the vulgar generalizations of someone like Bernard Lewis when he so frequently observed that Arab writers were never interested in the world beyond their horizons.  They really embarrass Lewis by giving one example after another of his ignorance and of the various writings by Arabs about the world beyond.