For Lust of Knowing: The Orientalists and their Enemies by Robert Irwin
Robert Irwin has spent a lifetime investigating and imagining the history of the Islamic world. In "For Lust of Knowing", the culmination of that lifetime's devotion, he makes the definitive case for the Orientalists. Irwin charts the origins of Orientalism in this case, the study of the Middle and near East and its foremost practitioners, from Ancient Greece up to the present day. In doing so, he finally banishes the ghosts of Edward Said's Orientalism, which branded this rich and wondrous field of study a weapon of imperialism. Irwin shows that, whether making philological comparisons between Arabic and Hebrew, cataloguing the coins of Fatimid Egypt or establishing the basic chronology of Harun al-Rashid's military campaigns against Byzantium, these scholars have been unified not by politics or by ideology but by their shared obsession. For "Lust of Knowing" is an extraordinary, passionate book, both a sustained argument and a brilliant work of original scholarship.