Review of David Levering Lewis’ “God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215
Lewis, David Levering. God’s Crucible, Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215. W.W. Norton: New York, 2008 (473pp.) Read 05-19-15 to 07-31-15. This was an exceptionally difficult book, and, frankly, I am surprised I finished it.
First of all it is a difficult subject- muslim/arab history is very convoluted and the names of people and places and a totally different dating scheme is all very foreign to me. Secondly, Lewis’ writing style was difficult; it just did not flow well and seemed to go back and forth a lot. Nonetheless, this is an important book and I take his points well. And it was painful.
Lewis’ main idea is that the rise and flourishing of islam when Rome had fallen, and Europe was barbaric, provided the impetus through Spain, to kick Europe out of barbarism. If Spain had not been captured by islam, Europe would have stayed in the Dark Ages for centuries longer than they did. Lewis is mostly fair to both sides (Muslim and Christian) but he did seem to me to be very Islamic friendly. He not only clearly demonstrates the superiority of Islamic culture vis-à-vis European but he relishes in the fact. He seems to gleefully describe the horrible outrages of medieval Christians in their ignorance, poverty, and brutality, but he seems to express sadness when he fairly reports the times of failure and brutality of muslims.
He worked on this book before and after 9/11 and in his Acknowledgements admits that 9/11 forced him to change some things. I believe that he sees the horrible side of islam now, and by pointing back to the high culture of islam in its early days, particularly in Spain where, in his opinion, the musims, Jews, and Christians got along well, and he is pointing to that period and place and calling all sides to “just get along”. This point, I disagree with.
I cannot recommend this book to the average reader, but if you have a love for medieval history, or, like me, seriously want to get a grasp on the history of Islamic relations with the West, then this will be a good book- but tough.