Adam 's Reviews > God's Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215

God's Crucible by David Levering Lewis
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Jul 11, 08


This superb portrayal by NYU history professor Lewis of the fraught half-millennium during which Islam and Christianity uneasily coexisted on the continent just beginning to be known as Europe displays the formidable scholarship and magisterial ability to synthesize vast quantities of material that won him Pulitzer Prizes for both volumes of W.E.B. Du Bois.In characteristically elegant prose, Lewis shows Islam arising in the power vacuum left by the death throes of the empires of newly Christianized Rome and Persian Iran, then sweeping out of the Middle East as a fighting religion, with jihad inspiring cultural pride in hitherto marginalized Arab tribes. After Charles Martel's victory at the Battle of Poitiers in 732 sent the Muslim invaders back south of the Pyrenees, the Umayyad dynasty consolidated its rule in al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), forging a religiously tolerant, intellectually sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture whose achievements would eventually seed the Renaissance. Meanwhile, the virtually powerless Roman popes joined forces with ambitious Frankish leaders, from Pippin the Short to Charlemagne, to create the template for feudal Europe: a religiously intolerant, intellectually impoverished, socially calcified, and economically primitive society. The collapse of the Umayyad dynasty and the rise of local leaders who embraced Muslim fundamentalism as a means to power destroyed the vitality of al-Andalus, paving the way for the Crusades and the Christian reconquista of Spain. Lewis clear-sightedly lays out the strengths and weaknesses of both worlds, though his sympathies are clearly with cosmopolitan doctor/philosophers like Ibn Rushd and Musa ibn Maymun (better known in the West as Averroës and Maimonides), who represented cultural eclecticism and creedal forbearance, sadly out of place in the increasingly fanatical 12th century. 8 pages of color illus., 4 maps. (Jan.)
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Toonvanelst ... forging a religiously tolerant, intellectually sophisticated, socially diverse and economically dynamic culture whose achievements would eventually seed the Renaissance.

Did you know that it was the Renaissance rulers of Spain who formally expelled the Jews and Muslims from the island, and not the medieval crusaders of the 12th century? The Renaissance that you seem to uphold as a period of advance in respect to the middle ages was far more fanatical and destructive with bigger armies, more deadly weapons and religious doctrines leading them steadily on to the battlefield.


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