What went wrong? : Western impact and Middle Eastern response

by Bernard Lewis

Paper Book, 2002




Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, 2002.


Why did the most advanced civilization in the world lose its power and fall under the domination of others? This book examines how Middle Easterners responded to Western challenges in war, technology, religion and other areas between the 18th and 20th centuries.

User reviews

LibraryThing member walkthemoon89
This is a rare offering, a history with a real grasp on human nature. Just as history is written about many of the most awful episodes of the past, many historians write with a very small degree of belief in human decency, to say the least. Most history is written with a lot of technical knowledge
Show More
about military and political affairs, but in a more mechanical than human way. This is not to say that all errors are the same or all controversy useless, but truth is hard to obtain when the story or interpretation is built clumsily and without understanding, a sense of the whole which can distinguish between a house and a pile of bricks. In this book the facts are not just strewn about like bricks, or collected like strange and exotic flora, but selected to tell a story which tells a truth about people, that blame brings only pain to the one who blames. Much history only tells you that the death rate was unusually high on a given day. Much history actually actively contradicts the truth that blame doesn't pay, by blaming the cherished villain of the relevant party. I know that I might sound to be making a lot out of this in terms of it being atypical history, but he does start out with what's most tangible and non-essential, and slowly goes the other way. By the end of it he really is talking about the nature of living, and I really think you are supposed to walk away thinking in a different way than your average student of history, of any party.

The central message of this book is that when something bad happens to you, you ought to take responsibility for it, for you do have the power to make it better. Despite the necessary linguistic training that would go into the backstory research, the technical knowledge needed to work out what people were saying, the story ultimately isn't about people with funny names. If it were about the French Revolution or the war against Napoleon, you'd be talking largely about French people playing the part of the chosen people of the goddess of reason, and suffering in this erroneous zone of thought. But the truth, that nobody is the sacred race, would in the end have nothing to do with French phonetics, or any other technical knowledge. Likewise, the clouds of ignorance darkening the skies of the world of cosmopolitan Ottomans and oceanic poets isn't about looking cool by remembering the details of Russo-Ottoman wars, as though you were employed by the Foreign Office in the century before last. It's not about collecting factoids to score some cheap points against the people who don't mock other people in the correct and enlightened way in which you mock people who are not enlightened, who do not mock the right people in the right ways. No, it's not about silly things that happened to other people; it's about you. If you blame other people for your own mistakes and your foolish ideas that cause you trouble, then you are doing what a once-great half-broken civilization has done to wreck their ship of state. Now as always, if you change your thoughts, you can change your life, although there's always a price if you don't. So it's about you, really. If it's not about you, it's about nobody. (Because we are all one.)
Show Less
LibraryThing member neddludd
A disappointment: the book doesn't fulfill the promise of the title nearly as fully as one might have hoped. Lewis restates much of the material from earlier works, and notes that in medieval times, Islamic culture was vital and energetic; it produced breakthroughs which the West borrowed. Since
Show More
the Renaissance and Enlightenment the process has reversed and Islamic culture has stagnated. The process has only accelerated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Why? Lewis presents two possibilities: fundamentalistism, which posits that Islamic culture has been corrupted by modernity and needs to return to its roots; and secularist, which sees the Islamic religious leaders as imposing a brake on progress and yearns for the separation of church and state found in the West. OK, now what? Lewis' work really ignores the challenges posed by Al Qaeda, the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, 9/11 and other key developments--such as drone attacks. The work seems dated and a venture designed to gain sales at the expense of new insights. Although the book is copyrighted in 2002, much of the material is from mid-1990s presentations and there are only the most minimal references to jihadist threats and Western counter moves.
Show Less
LibraryThing member JBreedlove
Lewis catalogue's the failings of Arab political, social, and economic history in its historical relationship with the West.
LibraryThing member name99
This is Lewis covering history, which he does well, but truth be told, there's little of interest here that isn't in his hour-long talks on the internet, which are tighter edited and better focussed.
LibraryThing member neurodrew
This brief book is a re‑worked collection of essays by an accomplished scholar of Islam, Turkey and Arabia. Bernard Lewis explores several aspects of the reasons for the eclipse of Islam and the Arabic empire by Western Europeans in the 16th through 20th century. It is not an exhaustive history
Show More
but a snapshot of some cultural themes. He explores the military changes, cultural influences, scientific issues such as the marking of time and measurement, and the response of the Islamic societies to the European challenge. It was written before the Sept 11 attacks, but has a great deal of relevance to understanding some of the resentment at their origin. Written in an engaging and scholarly style.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jaygheiser
Mildly interesting history, but doesn't really answer the question implied by the title. Lacking in actual analysis.
LibraryThing member Tullius22
This book taught me much about the tragic decline of Islamic civilization, a culture which was once so great yet has fallen so far. And, contrary to certain vocal, if not necessarily informed, objectors, Lewis tells this story in a way that is both fair and sympathetic. But what most impressed me
Show More
about the book was that it didn't just teach me about the Islamic world--I expected that-- it also imparted a surprising amount of information about the West. I was shocked to find myself learning so much about my own culture. (Of course, not *everything* that I learned about the West painted it in pretty hues, but that's not the point, now is it?)
Show Less
LibraryThing member soylentgreen23
The story of Islam has dominated the collective psyche of the western world since 9/11, though few seem to have gone out of their way to understand the religion and its adherents. If you want to know how Islam got to where it is, and the challenges that it faces, then this book is an extremely good
Show More

For a long period in history, Islam was an enlightened religion, and the lands that it dominated were more open and egalitarian than the Christian equivalents. Arab Muslims lived in close harmony with Christians and Jews, and science and poetry flowered.

What happened, then, to put Islam and Islamic republics in the position they now find themselves in? Political and economic stagnation, the arts repressed, science left to the west and Japan - everything seems to have gone wrong, and it is a complicated matter to see why. If you want to know, or get some ideas at least, then read this excellent book.
Show Less
LibraryThing member M.J.Meeuwsen
A must read for those interested in Islam, its background and development until our present time.
LibraryThing member gmicksmith
For a small volume Lewis packs a great amount of detail while addressing a central question of our time. To this end, he analyses key components of Islamists confusion with their lot in life and surveys the scapegoated groups and common explanations of why Islam fell so far behind Western
Show More
development in technology, natural rights, and scientific advance.
Show Less
LibraryThing member timothyl33
A very interesting and informative book regarding Islam's history viz a viz Christendom Europe from the Middle Eastern perspective. It primarily focuses on the questions that Muslims have been asking regarding their diminished influence that began on the 17th century onward with their military and
Show More
economic decline.
Show Less
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
John Bagot Glubb being dead, Bernard Lewis took over trying to explain to the West the folly of proceeding on a simple cash and corruption approach to the major oil supply and its culture. But no one listened when things were going calmly, and when a crisis blew up, there was no time to thwart
Show More
demonization by a wiser long-term policy. Lewis advances the theory, since borne out by events, that Islam wanted to modernize, but not to westernize. Perhaps we can avert the harsher possibilities by using this book as a blueprint for present and future policies.
Show Less
LibraryThing member jonfaith
I’ve always shuddered when considering Bernard Lewis. That condition will likely continue.

It is interesting that Lewis repeats the question “who did this to us “ throughout this slim polemic. The question asserted by Lewis regards the slipping of prestige from the Ottoman Empire to the
Show More
embarrassed Middle East of the late 20C. Such was the question bandied about across the United States after the righteous struck Manhattan.

These alleged clashes of civilization might be constructs or crutches. Said taught me that. They do fuel a great deal of opinion as well as policy across the globe.
Show Less
LibraryThing member Huaquera
Lewis discusses what happened, but offers no causal factors, unlike Reilly in The Closing of the Muslim Mind.
LibraryThing member ritaer
why Islam fell behind West after years of ascendancy
LibraryThing member tuckerresearch
Lewis makes some good points and gives you agood history of the Muslim world's cultural decline that began in the 1500s.


Page: 0.2359 seconds