As Professor Lewis states in the Preface to the second edition of this work, "Islam in History" is a collection of thirty-two articles on Islam. Anybody wishing to gain some understanding of this very important, very misunderstood, and very troubled civilization, should read this book. Lewis, once again, provides the reader with a magnificent work that is not pedantic but instructive, that does not belittle its subject nor its audience, and that demonstrates how necessary true scholarship is, particularly in times such as these.
The book is divided into eight parts: Western Approaches, Muslim History and Historians, Muslims and Jews, Turks and Tatars, In Black and White, History and Revolution, New Ideas, and New Events. Since this new edition dates from 1993, the recent developments in the world should not be expected. However, I really meant it when I wrote that true scholarship is necessary in our world: in the last essay of this volume, Lewis writes that there have been basically two atitudes from Muslims to confront the problems of the Islamic/Arab world (he does not deal with the East-Asian Mulims, like Indonesians and Malaysians, because he admits that he does not know much about them), divided into two questions. The first one is "What did we do wrong?" The second is "Who did this to us?" The first question leads to the search for solutions. The second question, and this deserves to be quoted at length, "leads to delusions and fantasies and conspiracy theories--indeed, the most dangerous enemies of the Muslim peoples at this time are those who assure them that in all their troubles the fault is not in themselves but in open or occult hostile forces. Such beliefs can only lead to resentment and frustration, to an endless, useless succession of bigots and tyrants and to a role in world history aptly symbolized by the suicide bomber. In the first of these questions ["What did we do wrong?], for those who have the courage to ask it, and the vision to answer, lies hope for the future and for a new dawn of Muslim creativity."
Professor Lewis wrote those lines in 1993, but they are as relevant today as if he had written them on September 12, 2001. In fact, the last number of "The Atlantic Monthly" has an article by Professor Lewis where he presents this basic premise once more, since it was true a decade ago and it is true today.
I cannot recommend Bernard Lewis's books strongly enough. This one, as all his other books that I have read, is erudite, informative, interesting, serious, entertaining and, above all, important. If you have never read anything by him, but are interested in this book, read his recent article in "The New Yorker" ("The Revolt of Islam"), and the already mentioned article in "The Atlantic." Those articles will serve as an Introduction to "Islam in History." Bernard Lewis is an extraordinary scholar, and we are lucky to have him with us.