Synopses & Reviews
The publication of Edward Said's hugely influential Orientalism
in 1981 called into question the entire history of the Western study of Islamic culture, condemning this scholarly tradition as one that presented inaccurate and deliberately demeaning representations of Islamic peoples and institutions so much so that the words "Oriental" and "Orientalist" came to take on the most negative connotations.
But what is Orientalism, who were the Orientalists, and how did Western scholars of Islamic culture come to be vilified as insidious agents of European imperialism? In Robert Irwin's groundbreaking new history, he answers this question with a detailed and colorful story of the motley crew of intellectuals and eccentrics who brought an understanding of the Islamic world to the West. In a narrative that ranges from an analysis of Ancient Greek perceptions of the Persians to a portrait of the first Western European translators of Arabic to the contemporary Muslim world's perceptions of the Western study of Islam, Irwin affirms the value of the Orientalists' legacy: not only for the contemporary scholars who have disowned it, but also for anyone committed to fostering the cross-cultural under-standing which could bridge the real or imagined gulf between Islamic and Western civilization.
Dangerous Knowledge is an enthralling history, a bold argument, and an urgent redress of our conceptions about Western culture's relationship with its nearest neighbor.
"Almost 30 years ago, in his classic Orientalism, the late cultural critic Edward Said published a scathing denunciation of Oriental studies, blaming the field for the rise of Western imperialism and racist views about Arabs and other Eastern peoples. British historian Irwin (The Alhambra) fiercely condemns Said's misinterpretation, offering both a brilliant defense of Orientalism and a masterful intellectual history of the Orientalists and their work, which opened windows on the world of Asia in general and Islam in particular, providing the West with glimpses of the social and religious practices of these cultures. Irwin surveys the history of Orientalism from the Greeks through the Middle Ages to its height in the 18th and 19th centuries. He chronicles the lives and works of the men who introduced the ideas of Islamic and Asian culture to the West. Many of these men were biblical critics whose command of Hebrew allowed them to move easily to Arabic and to explore the Koran. In the 17th century, the dragomans, or translators, moved the study of Islam forward by providing translations of Turkish, Arabic and Persian texts. Irwin's wide-ranging study splendidly captures a time when intellectual polymaths traversed foreign territories in search of new and compelling ideas. (Oct.) " Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Latter-day Orientalists and students of intellectual history will benefit greatly from this study." Kirkus Reviews
"[Irwin] takes a subject that could be deadly dull and makes it live....A serious work of scholarship that is a delight to read from start to finish..." Library Journal
"[Irwin] is...an expert in his field and a skilled writer....Mr. Irwin has provided the nuanced critique of Islamic studies that Edward Said, with his self-aggrandizing bluster, failed to deliver." Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Irwin writes for a general audience in a lively, readable style..." New York Times
"Though this book is an extraordinarily attractive short introduction to the different national schools of Orientalism, and to the various scholars who labored to make Eastern philology and philosophy more accessible, its chief interest to the lay reader lies in its consideration of Orientalism as a study of Islam. Irwin shows us the early Christian attempts to translate and understand the Koran, most of which were preoccupied with showing its heretical character. These make especially absorbing reading..." Christopher Hitchens, The Atlantic Monthly
(read the entire Atlantic Monthly review
An alternate history of the disparaged intellectual tradition of Orientalism explores how western scholars of Islamic culture came to be vilified as agents of European imperialism, in an account that profiles the intellectual and eccentric figures who introduced the Islamic world to America.
About the Author
Robert Irwin was born in 1946. He read modern history at Oxford and taught medieval history at the University of St. Andrews. He has held teaching appointments in Arabic and Middle Eastern history at Oxford and Cambridge.