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What Went Wrong? Western Impact And Middle Eastern Response

3.47  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,231 Ratings  ·  235 Reviews
For many centuries, Islam was the world's greatest, most open, enlightened, creative and powerful civilization, and then everything changed, as the previously despised West won victory after victory, first on the battlefield and in the marketplace, then in almost every aspect of public and even private life. Bernard Lewis examines the anguished reaction of the Islamic worl ...more
200 pages
Published (first published 2001)
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Dec 23, 2015 Hadrian rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, nonfiction
This is so vague and incoherent of a book, I can only describe where it is factually wrong because Lewis is so inconsistent with his terms that I can't address his themes. Colonialism apparently wasn't that bad (At least 400,000 civilians died in the French-Algerian War alone), the Ottomans were a military disaster (except for the whole gates of Vienna thing), Muslims apparently decided to become shut off on their own accord from Europe (never mind mass expulsions from Spain).

And what does Lewis
Dec 06, 2010 Yazeed rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Full of historical mistakes and misconceptions. The author is clearly biased, and presents some of his ideas as if they were well-known facts.
If you really want to know what went wrong, read something else by a trusted author. I recommend: A History of The Modern Middle East by Cleveland.
Jan 31, 2013 Louise rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: middle-east, islam
What went wrong? The Middle East, once a power to be reckoned with, is now noted for its poverty, political weakness and the under-education of its people. Some say it is the fault of outside powers. Professor Lewis looks deeper, seeing this not as a cause but a symptom. He explores why the region was vulnerable to those outside powers.

He notes that some have considered the causes to be military, economic and/or political weaknesses. Attempts to modernize in these areas have met with military fa
Billie Pritchett
Bernard Lewis's What Went Wrong? begins with the question "Why did Western countries advance in science, technology, trade, and other areas of social and economic life and Middle Eastern countries, especially those considered part of the Muslim world, did not?" Lewis then proceeds, throughout the bulk of the book, to address topics unrelated to the book's central question. The reader is treated to excursuses on warfare in the Muslim world, for example, and issues related to the Muslim world's re ...more
In this sleek and informative book, noted Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis examines the interaction between the Islamic world and the West. It's a fascinating and illuminating book.

At one time, the Muslim world was the richest, most powerful, and culturally advanced civilization on the planet. The Muslim empire encouraged education and learning, treated its minorities reasonably well, traded with its neighbors, and conquered every army it faced.

Because of its obvious superiority, the Muslim wo
Mikey B.
Dec 05, 2015 Mikey B. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Page 144 (my book) speech of Kemal Ataturk in 1925

That same might and power which, in defiance of a whole world, made Istanbul forever the property of the Turkish people [in 1453], was too weak to overcome the ill-omened resistance of the men of law and to receive in Turkey the printing press, which had been invented at about the same time. Three centuries of observation and hesitation were needed, of effort and energy expended for and against, before antiquated laws and their exponents would pe
Will Byrnes
This is a scholarly look at the interactions between Islam and other civilizations, primarily European Christianity, and secondarily India and China. It is filled with interesting bits of information and comprises a pocket history (under 200 pages) and analysis of Islam. Although it is a short book it reads much longer. It is a worthwhile read, but I suspect that it’s primary value will be as a reference.

P 6
For centuries, Islam represented the greatest military power on earth—its armies, at the
Sam Norton
Before I even start to read this I just want to say "Wow!" It takes a lot of fortitude (though not necessarily an equal amount of brains) to title your book about Islam "What Went Wrong." I'm pretty sure this is exactly what Edward Said is talking about in "Orientalism."


Just as I expected, an extremely judgmental look at the Middle East and Islam. This is absolutel
Roger Burk
Sep 13, 2009 Roger Burk rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a capsule history of Islamic civilization in the Middle East from about 1500 to the present, with an emphasis on how from the late 1600s it fell further and further behind the West in wealth, culture, and military might. Lewis puts the blame on a myopic and inward-turning culture that took hold in the region. When European universities established chairs of Arabic and Persian, no European language was studied in the Ottoman or Persian realms. Europeans travelled often to the East and wro ...more
Slim Khezri
Sep 12, 2013 Slim Khezri rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A brilliant exegesis of Islam's present challenges, a reflection that's helping all of us understand the conflict all over the world today. I found this an interesting and informative book. Bernard Lewis describes of how far and how quickly Islam had spread by the sword and conquest after it was established in the Med-evil 600s. Back then Islam was the center of knowledge, culture and medicine during the Middle Ages of the West. The West, or what was really Europe, was struggling for centuries, ...more
Kate Schlesinger
Lewis presents several interesting ideas about contact between the West and the Middle East and about why each region developed differently after 1500. However, he ultimately fails to answer the question of "What went wrong?" While it was interesting to think about why the West developed ideas like the separation of church and state (among other things) while the Middle East didn't, it isn't until the conclusion that Lewis gets into the question posed by the title of the book. Even then, he posi ...more
Good book with little biased view for Muslims, but a good book for reading the point of view of Christians or a Christian writer that what created the current scenario regarding the change in attitude of the West regarding the Muslims.
Ben Brandenburg
Apr 22, 2009 Ben Brandenburg rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: public-affairs
At first I loved this book, then I realized Lewis was incredibly flawed with his "they hate us for our freedom's" thesis.
Feb 15, 2016 Ram rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
A well written and researched book. Gives you a good picture of the way Islam looks at the rest of the world and why it came to be this way . With all the events in the Islamic world that occurred since it was written (El Qaeda, ISIS, the revolutions in the Islamic world and more) it is probably a bit out dated, even though it does give you a better understanding of the more recent events in the Islamic world too. What I was missing in the book, (and probably the million $ question) is where wil ...more
Interesting and informative book. I began reading this book with a negative view of the author because of previous work I've seen from him, mainly excerpts and small articles. They presented to me a person who was very racist towards Middle Easterners and who firmly believed in Western Imperialism Supremacy over the Middle East region. After reading this book, I have changed my view point into a more positive because of how he delivered his information. Even though I still noticed a certain supr ...more
Khalid Ismail
In this book Bernard Lewis discusses the transfer of power from the Ottomans in the East to the Europeans in the West explaining in details the beginning of the inclination era in the Islamic empire after Vienna siege and the impact of peace treaty of Carlowitz on the political relations between the two sides.

It is really obvious that Lewis knows a lot of Middle East and Middle Eastern history more than the Middle Easterns themselves, but he is biased. Throughout the book, he indicates that the
Simon_Cleveland_Ph.D. Simon_Cleveland_Ph.D.
After reading `What Went Wrong? : The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East', I was impressed with Mr. Lewis' level of detail and clarity of writing on topics such as religion and modernity. Now, after completing `The Middle East', I'm reminded yet again of his talent to construct detailed historical account of the political, religious and socio-economic aspects of life in that region. In this latest book, Mr. Lewis examines the major factors leading to the complexity of issues pl ...more
Dec 16, 2012 Absurdfarce rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: discards
While filled with rich historical detail this slender volume never really attempts to come to grips with the question contained in it's title. Professor Lewis describes an early Islamic culture open to others, noting in rich detail the role that this culture played in preserving many Greek and Roman classics when the western empire was overrun by the "barbarians". By the 18th and 19th century this culture had simultaneously fallen behind the surging West and turned inward. Attempts were made to ...more
Sep 16, 2007 John rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A friend recently recommended Bernard Lewis’ The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror. Before I could find a copy of it, I found Lewis’ What Went Wrong?: The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East. This short volume (161 pages) provided a very interesting history of Islam from the 1500’s to present day, focusing on the factors involved in Islam’s loss of world power and on Islam’s responses over the centuries to that loss. The nature of the book (a collection of lectures) pr ...more
Andrew Lord
Apr 20, 2014 Andrew Lord rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Uses historical context to great effect in proving why the Islam world drastically fell from dominant world power to "uncivilized" region. I do wish the author would have been more willing to take a stance on it, but the answer was clear to me nonetheless. For centuries, the prevailing mindset throughout the Muslim world was that "if [insert Renaissance invention here] was such a great idea, Allah would have revealed it to us first, therefore we don't even need to pay attention to the innovation ...more
I got to the conclusion and realized he never answered the question in the title of the book. Even in his conclusion he didn't attempt to answer the question. Maybe I need it spelled out to me, but he never seemed to give any good explanations as to why the Middle East fell behind the West in the last couple of centuries.
Carlos Alonso-Niemeyer
Lewis is one of the best authors to write about the Middle East. I admire the culture surrounding Islam. I had the honor to work with various persons who live in the Middle East and are proud of their culture and traditions. They are spiritual and enigmatic. This book provides a very good explanation of what has happened during the past 100 years.
One of the main reasons for some of the disparities between the west and the Arabic world is the fact that woman have not been able to participate in
Jun 03, 2013 Susan rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I could give two and a half stars I would. The author's note at the end of the book explains that the core of the book is taken from three separate lectures, as well as previous publications. And it feels like it. The book, while exploring interesting topics, is disjointed and clearly not conceived as a whole with the title question in mind. The title is, instead, an attempt to link the different lectures and publications under one unifying theme, addressed only in the introduction and conclu ...more
Hasnaa Ramadan
Jan 27, 2015 Hasnaa Ramadan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
اعطيه 5 نجوم لانه كاذب بارع
وكاذب بارع كبرنارد لويس يعلم الكثير عن من يكتب عنهم لذلك يعرف كيف يضللهم
اعطيه 5 نجوم لانه يصف بدقه حاله التدهور التى اصابت العالم الاسلامى ثم
يبدأ فى وضع تبريراته وافترائاته على الحقائق
ليصل بالكاتب الى فكره واحده وهى ان الاسلام دين يدعوا للتفرقه ولا بقوم على المساواه
وانه يدعوا للعنف وان المسلمين ينظروا الى العالم نظره استحقار
وصدق عندما قال ان ما يفعله المسلمون عكس ما ينص عليه الاسلام
و ان المسلمون يبحثون عن اطلال المجد
دون رغبه فى العمل
وفتره السقوط كان فيه انحراف
Muhammad Fakhruddin
The question, or more accurate the questions he asked was left to us, Muslims to answer it.
Burak Sismanoglu
Apr 29, 2012 Burak Sismanoglu rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I chose this book from my bookshelf because of the subject matter.It actually helped me to understand Middle-Eastern history and how it had a big impact on Christian Europe for many centuries.Bernard also describes the failure of Islam world after European victory and he compares the differences between Western and Middle-Eastern cultures."What went wrong?" by Bernard Lewis is a great book and has accurate historical background.I recommend this book who enjoys to learn about Middle-Eastern cultu ...more
May 16, 2016 Brett rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
At first glance of this book’s cover, one would think that the purpose of this book is to attempt to explain why the Middle East declined from its former status as a center of prosperity and civilization and reached its current status of poverty and chaos. While this book attempts to do so to an extent, one must remember that the book is entitled “What Went Wrong?” not “Why Did it go Wrong?” So, this book mostly explains and documents all the “whats” and “hows” of the decline of the Islamic Mid ...more
Matin Kheirkhahan
Apr 17, 2016 Matin Kheirkhahan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a good book and if you are interested in middle east history I definitely recommend it.

I think the best parts are those which observations, comparisons, and conclusions are reinforced by quotes of historical figures; i.e., letters of Austrian, Ottoman, and Persian ambassadors to their emperors/sultans/shahs about the things they find interesting or irritating.

The book also very well explains how the stubbornity of the easterners towards adapting new era's requirements and rules plays a
Nicholas Sangiacomo
This feels like a tough book to review, if only because it touches on a sensitive topic: what happened to the Middle East?

The conclusion the author comes to is essentially that Muslims were too stuck in their ways and willfully ignorant of modern ways. The subjugation of women is also a chief issue raised.

This book gives a great summary of the gradual collapse of what was once called the Cradle of Nations. But I can't help but feel, given the span of the timeline and the amount of nations and
Oct 08, 2015 Tahazen rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
I'll start with the one thing I liked about the book: Lewis' writing style. He does a great job making a very dense topic readable and he has a skill for distilling complex concepts into cogent and digestible sentences. I enjoyed his writing, but the content....not so much.

This is a controversial book of a renowned Western historian writing about the Middle East in a negative light. There are several issues I have with the book. The first and most important being, Lewis asks a question: "what w
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Bernard Lewis, FBA (born May 31, 1916) is a British-American historian, scholar in Oriental studies, and political commentator. He is the Cleveland E. Dodge Professor Emeritus of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University. He specializes in the history of Islam and the interaction between Islam and the West, and is especially famous in academic circles for his works on the history of the Ottoman ...more
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“Secularism in the Christian world was an attempt to resolve the long and destructive struggle of church and state. Separation, adopted in the American and French Revolutions and elsewhere after that, was designed to prevent two things: the use of religion by the state to reinforce and extend its authority; and the use of the state power by the clergy to impose their doctrines and rules on others. This is a problem long seen as purely Christian, not relevant to Muslims or for that matter to Jews, for whom a similar problem has arisen in Israel. Looking at the contemporary Middle East, both Muslim and Jewish, one must ask whether this is still true -- or whether Muslims and Jews may perhaps have caught a Christian disease and might therefore consider a Christian remedy.” 9 likes
“In 1940, we knew who we were, we knew who the enemy was, we knew the dangers and the issues," he told me when I pressed him for a reading of the struggle against Islamic radicalism. "In our island, we knew we would prevail, that the Americans would be drawn into the fight. It is different today. We don't know who we are, we don't know the issues, and we still do not understand the nature of the enemy.” 8 likes
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