In This Review

Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian
Notes on a Century: Reflections of a Middle East Historian
By Bernard Lewis with Buntzie Ellis Churchill
Viking Adult, 2012, 400 pp.

Even if Lewis’ academic career had been half its length, his memoir would still command extensive attention among all those concerned with the Middle East. However, those looking for a meticulous historical account of his career will be disappointed. His reflections are more lighthearted than profound, more anecdotal than analytic. And why not? In the ripeness of his years, Lewis is a happy man. He portrays himself as a historian self-consciously looking over his shoulder at the three facets of his persona -- Jewish, British, and Western -- and trying to correct for any bias they might produce. But he seems not to have noticed that as his profile as a public intellectual grew, his ability to correct sometimes faltered. Even now, Lewis extends no olive branch to his nemesis, the late Edward Said, dismissing Said’s argument that Orientalist European scholarship played a role in European imperial expansion as “just plain wrong” and as “an absurdity.” He rails against what he sees as the political correctness that followers of Said introduced to the study of the Middle East and Islam, describing his struggle against them as a “battle . . . between enforced ideology and freedom.” In so doing, he disregards the enforced correctness of what many regard as his side.