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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of Jared Diamond and Jacques Barzun, prize-winning historian Anthony Pagden presents a sweeping history of the long struggle between East and West, from the Greeks to the present day.

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

Critic Reviews

"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)

What members say

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  • Overall

Great story, with a lot of unfamiliar names

This is a great story -- as the cover of the book says, it's the 2500-year history of conflict between East and West. The geographical locations are actually a bit more specific than that: the East is the Middle East (the Persian Empire, the the Safavid Empire, the Ottoman Empire); the West is mostly Western Europe (Greece, Rome, Spain, France, Germany). The history is partly political and military, and partly intellectual: all the great battles are here, but considerable space is also given, for example, to the ideas about "Orientalism" that spread through Europe in the 18th century. The narrative moves rapidly and includes a rich amount of surprising detail.

Then there are the names. One of the strengths of the book is also one of its weaknesses, at least as an audiobook. I've read a lot of world history, but even so I found the book loaded with unfamiliar names, many of them Arabic, French, or Spanish (a good thing, since I was hoping to learn something new); and I found it difficult at times, with John Lee's very posh and precise pronunciation, to visualize the spelling (a bad thing). I discovered in the process that I'm a much more visually-oriented learner than I realized. (I got around the problem by checking the book out of the library and looking stuff up.)

Compared to Pagden's "Peoples and Empires," also available here, this is both longer and more focused: it doesn't try to tell all of world history, just as much as possible about this one aspect of it. John Lee is a great narrator, and it's an absorbing and rewarding listen.

56 of 58 people found this review helpful

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  • Ryan
  • Somerville, MA, United States
  • 10-15-11

Absorbing, well-researched, not unbiased history

I found this book a fascinating exploration of the long history of conflict between East and West, and the way the powers in charge of each sphere (whether Greek, Trojan, Roman, Persian, Christian, Muslim, French, Ottoman, British, or Arabic) have often seen themselves as inheritors of all the earlier struggles. Of course, it should be noted right away that by ???The East???, Pagden generally means the near and middle east, the lands from Asia Minor to the region that's modern Iran -- China, India, and Japan don???t figure into the book at all. In fact, his focus is really more on the development of the West and its experience with the East than the reverse.

It should also be noted that Pagden has a strong bias towards liberal, secular, democratic values, which he feels are the essence of Western culture (he states as much in the forward). Religion, both Christianity and Islam, are portrayed in a dim light, as institutional obstacles to reason, human rights, and progress. Not that I don???t largely agree with this assessment, but some readers might take offense. Still, he seems to be fair-minded about it, giving Muslim societies credit for brief periods of learning and relative tolerance, and indicting the modern West for its more counterproductive forays into the Middle East, which understandably stoked the fires of Muslim distrust and resentment. Indeed, the final chapter warns, convincingly, of continued bloody conflict between an uncompromising pan-Islamic worldview, whose adherents have enjoyed few of the fruits of the West and see little of their value, and countries like the US, whose leaders naively assume that their own democratic attitudes are universally held, and fail to account for a divide with deep historic roots.

However, I don???t want to place too much emphasis on modern politics, which take a back seat to the fact that this is a comprehensive, well-researched history, outlining many episodes over 2,500 years that I was only dimly aware of (e.g. Napoleon???s adventures in Egypt), and pulling them into a readable, continuous narrative. Especially interesting was reading of the ways in which the West???s often-skewed perception of the East as an "other" to strive against has nonetheless shaped its own attitudes towards freedom, tolerance, and science.

16 of 17 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Duff
  • San Jose, CA, USA
  • 06-06-09

Excellent historical survey

This is a hugely worthwhile survey of east-west relationships if, like me, you didn't specialize in "Oriental Studies". This seemed a balanced political history overall. Gigantic chucks of information are jettisoned in any history; more so one encompassing 2,500 years. Of the periods and traditions I've studied, I can attest that the author covered most well enough to maintain the narrative without sacrificing too much detail. There's nothing about the Viking expansion into the region, and the Russians get short shrift. Never mind. Pagden did a brilliant job at constructing a fascinating, coherent, and challenging essay on the ties and fractures in euro-asian relationships.

I had just finished this a day before President Obama's Cairo speech. Pagden's history and analysis gave me background enough to hear nuances I would have never heard.

Oh, and the narration is excellent as well.

17 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Good history

Well-read audiobook. The place names are often difficult because of their relative obscurity to our current history texts. In many cases, further study must start with a Web-search for the persons mentioned to discover the spelling of the places mentioned.

The major downside of this book is the author's militant secular viewpoint. The thesis of the book seems to contain only the factious and warlike nature of religion throughout history, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim. As this is a book on conflict between the East and West, that would be understandable if it stopped there. The author however, through frequent asides and careful choice of adjectives, displays his disdain for Christianity and Islam. As this is a scholarly work, the bias may be founded in his academia, but it is, nonetheless, a clear and ubiquitous bias.

Probably not a good read for high-schoolers or younger.

35 of 41 people found this review helpful

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One of the best audio books that I own!

What did you love best about Worlds at War?

A scholarly and riveting book for history fans.

Any additional comments?

This book has become one of the 5 audio books that I carry at all times. An interesting subject, well written by the author, and beautifully read by the narator. For those who are interested in the ageless battle between east and west, and how we've come to be where and what we are today, this book is facinating and instructive.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Mark P.
  • San Francisco CA
  • 09-26-12

An excellent introduction

Any additional comments?

The author provides a clear history of the clash of civilizations, east versus west. It would be impossible to cover all of the detail for such a lengthy timeline, and the author provides just the right amount to keep the listener interested in what comes next. Of greater value is the perspective provided as to the motivations of the various conflicts. These underpinnings are often lost in history books that merely recite facts and dates, yet it is imperative to understand them if one is to comprehend contemporary affairs. I'd strongly recommend this to anyone who is interested in gaining a wider understanding of the current conflict between western nations and the middle east.

3 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anna
  • O'Connell, Australia
  • 05-04-11

The beat goes on.

This book was fascinating to listen to at a time,rather later than some earlier reviews, when a new wave of unrest sweeps through middle eastern muslim countries.Just what is behind it all is something of a mystery, but the persisting differences in world views that Pagden discusses continue with undiminished potency today. The book illuminates so many salient points in the long and everlasting socio- religious history of the human race.One muslim belief I share: history does repeats itself, on and on and on.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

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  • Daniel
  • North Potomac, MD, United States
  • 12-23-10

Great sweeping book

Really enjoyed this book. The author takes a sweeping view history, covering events from the ancient Greeks through the Romans and to the present day. While told from a bit of UK perspective, I learned alot, especially concerning the French occupation of Egypt and the long term ramifications of that. He gets a few of his dates wrong toward the end concerning the US invasion of Iraq, but overall a good book. My only other comment is that his conclusions seem a bit muddled at the end concerning whether there is a permanent conflict between the West and the Islamic world simply based on their religious/ideological bases.

6 of 7 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Great book, to be taken with a grain of salt

Sure, the author's viewpoint is militantly secular. That's why it's so very funny to read comments urging him to go to "the source", i.e. the Bible.
For anyone not offended by secularism, it's a great book, extremely well read, with just a few issues that one must take with a grain of salt: his implied definition of what is East/West, his attachment to certain cultures at the expense of others (Russia and China, some have argued), and a sometimes strained polarization of the two notions. But it is all in all a great discussion of history; it can only do you good :)

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall


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.

4 of 5 people found this review helpful

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  • Peer Nelz
  • 07-19-15

Fantastic content and narration

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes, this audiobook provides first class education and due to the narrator it's very enjoyable and easy to listen to.

Who was your favorite character and why?


What does John Lee bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

John Lee narration brings the historic characters to life whilst maintaining an objective tone.

If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

Impossible to make a film as the subject would fill days.

Any additional comments?

This audiobook has given me (and still does) an invaluable history lesson and a greater understanding of the presence. I'd recommend this audiobook as highly valuable!

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Lord Peridot
  • 08-08-14


If you don't mind listening to an endless litany of names, places and dates that you probably haven't heard before and certainly won't remember, then you may enjoy this book. Its certainly an interesting subject. But the author seems to be showing off his vast knowledge in this oh so erudite disquisition. Yes, a bit annoying ...

0 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Anonymous User
  • 01-16-18


Great narration, This book stays on task, and does what it says on the label. A good idea well executed.