A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Roedenbeck on Lewis and Donner

If you haven't already seen it, check out Max Roedenbeck's review of new books by Bernard Lewis and Fred Donner in The New York Times.

It's a good review, and since the early centuries of Islam were my original scholarly turf I definitely must read the Donner book.

But I was struck by a reflection that spins off a bit from something Roedenbeck said in the review of Lewis' latest. He noted Lewis' views might in part stem from his being born in 1916, when the British Empire was still a going concern. If Lewis is a classic orientalist of the old school, Fred Donner of Chicago is one of the best early Islamic historians of my generation: his The Early Islamic Conquests (1981) remains a landmark work, and it sounds as if the new work will be another example of modern historical scholarship.

But I was also struck by the choice of reviewer: Max Roedenbeck, chief Middle East Correspondent for The Economist. Roedenbeck is not just an old Middle East hand: he has spent virtually his whole life in Cairo (and wrote a wonderful book about it), son of parents who taught at AUC and ran AUC press; for him the Middle East is not something merely for study, whether in orientalist or more contemporary form, but where he lives.

Three generations of Middle East expertise, and three very different approaches. Probably not what the editors had in mind in assigning the review, but what struck me on reading it.

Personal note: I'm still struggling to catch up from my injury and will be pushing hard over the next couple of days on the summer issue, so blogging may be light: that's why I'm posting on a weekend.

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