A Prescience of the Past

Bernard Lewis’s vast erudition, combined with his rare ability to let the past speak through him, enables him to grasp the present in all its depth.

Bernard Lewis in London in June 2002. Rex Features via AP Images.

Bernard Lewis in London in June 2002. Rex Features via AP Images.

Response
June 16 2016
About the author

Eric Ormsby is the author of, among other books, Theodicy in Islamic ThoughtMoses Maimonides and His Time, and seven volumes of poetry.


My old paperback copy of Bernard Lewis’s The Arabs in History (1950) has long since fallen to tatters, its individual signatures now detached, its margins festooned with comments, its pages dog-eared and smudged. It was the first work on Arab history that I read as a student, and if I cling to my battered copy to this day, it is not solely for sentimental reasons or because it remains unmatched as a concise account of a distant culture. The book enshrines an authorial passion that communicates itself to the reader. And my own clumsy annotations reflect that passion.

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More about: Bernard Lewis, History & Ideas, Middle East