The relationship between East and West has always been one of turmoil. In this historical tour de force, a renowned historian leads us from the world of classical antiquity, through the Dark Ages, to the Crusades, Europe's resurgence, and the dominance of the Ottoman Empire, which almost shattered Europe entirely. Pagden travels from Napoleon in Egypt to Europe's carving up of the finally moribund Ottomans - creating the modern Middle East along the way - and on to the present struggles in Iraq.
Throughout, we learn a tremendous amount about what "East" and "West" were and are, and how it has always been competing worldviews and psychologies, more than religion or power grabs, that have fed the mistrust and violence between East and West. In Pagden's dark but provocative view, this struggle cannot help but go on.
©2008 Anthony Pagden; (P)2008 Tantor
"An accessible and lucid exploration of the history of the East-West split....Fans of Jacques Barzun and Jared Diamond will be most impressed by Pagden's big picture perspective." (Publishers Weekly)
This book took a disinterested look at two thousand conflict between east and west and contains vast amount of interesting information. But because the scope is quite big, so some details might be skipped, but overall, a good book.
Presents the compelling argument that Europe and the middle east have been culturally divided since pre-history, irrespective of which empires and religions have ruled them. Main concern is the author is careless to the point of amateurish with his fact(oid) checking. These are rarely central to his thesis but do detract from its impact. (ie "'Veni vidi vici' uttered by Julius Caesar after his conquest of Britain' - um, no, he reputedly said them of Pontus, and his brief incursion into Britain was anything but a conquest)
This is a great survey of the thousands of years of mistrust, misunderstandings and the planting of the seeds of discontent that still are very much with us today. John Lee was the perfect narrator for this book. Loved it.
Letting the rest of the world go by
The author's make-believe take on the East excludes India, barely mentioned, and China and Japan, mentioned even less. By the East he means the Persian Empire and the Islamic middle east. He has a fantasy that the history of the world can be described by the "battle line drawn" between Europe and the East over 2300 years ago.
The author is never at a wont for describing the East in generic negative terms. I'll bet he referred to directly or quoted others that the East is "feminine" more than 10 times. What does it mean when a culture is feminine? He never tells me, but he clearly uses that as a negative trait. Besides, why would it be bad for a culture to be feminine or good if it were masculine? The East, according to him (or the ones he quotes favorably) are lover of boys and are disordered and not for liberty. Even when he talks about the advances made under Islamic civilizations during the West's dark ages, he just dismisses them by saying since they were ruled by such disordered leaders there indigenous populations got to flourish because they were poorly led and got to be themselves because of the poor leadership, whatever.
Western Civilization History is usually told by looking within and very little of the between is told. The author does tell the story by focusing only on the between providing the listener with insights into the development of the West which is not usually told in such great detail in survey of history books. That's the feature of the book I liked and it's why I tolerated the author's comic book characterizations of the "East", but in the end his characterizations of Persia and Islam sounded like the pigs in Animal farm repeating a mantra over and over that "four legs good, two legs bad" or in his case "Western Christians good, East Muslim bad".
Life is too short to read books that have such an obvious silly take on world history and I would recommend a good book on World History instead such as "The History of the World" by Roberts instead of this comic book characterization.
The book certainly has some good insights, or at least speculations, about the social and psychological evolution of the East-West cultural divide. That said, the author wastes a lot of time following his own bunny trails and ranting about how he views the world. All authors who write about historical events spin their narrative to support their beliefs to some extent, but Padgen's lack of objectivity is blatant. Having to weed credible ideas out of an overbearingly-obvious philosophical agenda gets tiring. Several times he made statements as if they were fact that are merely weak historical theories. Other times he employs bizarre logic and an obvious 21st-century filter to draw sweeping conclusions about complex causes in the progression of history. Worst of all, the author categorically rejects any historical example that contradicts his already-drawn conclusions. If it is a person, he brushes them aside as insincere and probably a liar. If it is a historical event, he immediately assumes it is historically inaccurate...
Padgen could have double checked his facts, avoided presenting theories as definite truths, and at least attempted to be a little more objective in his narrative. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all bad, there were some positive insights in the book. However, while the cover looks like a respectable, academic work, it reads more like the opinions of a wanna-be historian who read Wikipedia and delights himself in making philosophical conclusions about history.
The narrator was solid. Good voice, good pace.
Disappointment. I was looking for something with a little more complexity and the mature ability to see situations from multiple angles. Instead, the author reads history strictly through the lens of his conclusions and his philosophy.
Pagden admits his bias in the first few sentences of the book. I found his analysis extremely flawed due to those biases. A history writer should interpret actions and motivations in the context of the era under review, and at least make an effort to avoid letting their personal bias pollute their interpretations. I think Pagden failed on both counts.
This is just about the most polemical, biased history I've ever "read". It consists primarily of a bunch of quotes from Europeans stating how much the Middle East and all its countries and people suck, interspersed with quick glosses of famous battles, leaders, etc. There is no explanation of *why* any of the events unfolded the way they did - no discussion of technology, institutions, etc. The characteristics attributed to "The East" (i.e. the Mideast) are almost laughably inconsistent - Middle Easterners are decadent girly-men one chapter, then rough uncivilized barbarians the next. But the derision and smug superiority never lets up for an instant. There is very little history in this history book, but a whole lot of cheerleading for the author's tribe. If you skip it, you won't be missing much.
trying to explain the armenian genocide, the author tries to explain it by mentioning that the Turks thought the Armenians killed Turks when they declared independence in 1915. this ignores the murder of all educated and leaders of the armenian community in the 1890's.
typical british view that created the current trouble in Middle east with their meddling.
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