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In a remarkable survey of Middle Eastern history, Lewis improves greatly on prior accounts. First, he starts not with the seventh century, when Islam originated, but goes the whole way back to the time of Jesus. This has the distinct virtue of placing Islamic history in context, rather than seeing it as an almost complete innovation.

Second, Lewis aspires to do more than recite names and dates; he hopes to convey something of the texture of Middle Eastern life. His is a thoroughly modern history, full of striking details and illustrative personalities. While some of his information will no doubt be familiar to a reader with basic knowledge of the Middle East, Lewis draws extensively on his own original research, insuring that much of his book will be novel even to the most practiced Middle East hand.

Third, the author resists the small-minded orthodoxies of political correctness. Lastly, the book is exceedingly well written. Recently dubbed "one of the great prose writers of the last fifty years," Lewis has a knack for the vignette, the turn of phrase, and the telling quotation.

Lewis wrote his first published article in 1936 and celebrated his eightieth birthday earlier this year. The Middle East is a fitting capstone to his long career, surveying with broad strokes so many of the topics he has previously written about in more detail. The reader can now benefit from this lifetime of study within the covers of a single book.