Dangerous Knowledge by Robert Irwin
Orientalism and Its Discontents

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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" have come to take on the most negative connotations.

But what is Orientalism, and 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 understanding which could bridge the real or imagined gulf between Islamic and Western civilization. Dangerous Knowledge is a both riveting and entertaining history, a bold argument, and an urgent redress of our conceptions about Western culture’s relationship with its nearest neighbor.


About Robert Irwin

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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.
Published November 2, 2006 by Overlook Hardcover. 376 pages
Genres: History, Religion & Spirituality, Education & Reference, Travel. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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Irwin (The Arabian Nights, 1994, etc.) here ushers several classical authors into the Orientalist ranks, including Herodotus, who “seems to have been singularly free of racial prejudice,” and Aristotle, who contrarily inclined to the view that Asians “tolerate despotic rule without resentment,” a...

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The New York Times

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Russia, with its policy of conquest in central Asia and the Caucasus, would seem to offer ideal material for Mr. Said’s argument, Mr. Irwin notes, but mysteriously plays no role at all in “Orientalism.” Mr. Irwin writes for a general audience in a lively, readable style.

Nov 01 2006 | Read Full Review of Dangerous Knowledge: Oriental...

Campus Watch

It mars Irwin's appraisal of Lewis, a brilliant scholar whose "knack of looking at awkward subjects" – one thinks of his exploration of Muslim responses to modernity as it is defined in the West – has been overshadowed by his role, "quasi-official", in Clifford Geertz's apt words, "as the go-to a...

May 17 2006 | Read Full Review of Dangerous Knowledge: Oriental...

Campus Watch

For one thing, as Irwin quite rightly notes, ‘if one wants to give full and proper consideration to the relationship between Orientalism and imperialism, then one should turn to Russia with its vast empire of Muslim subjects.' An equally gaping lacuna in Said's work, Irwin stresses, concerns Germ...

Jun 08 2006 | Read Full Review of Dangerous Knowledge: Oriental...

Campus Watch

While Irwin includes one devastating chapter near the end in which he takes on Orientalism directly—another chapter is devoted to critics of Orientalist scholarship—the bulk of the book is not a polemic.

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Campus Watch

With this book, he has put these abilities to splendid use, both in providing a detailed history of European Orientalism and in rebutting the influential onslaught against the discipline mounted by the late Edward Said more than 25 years ago in "Orientalism."

Nov 04 2006 | Read Full Review of Dangerous Knowledge: Oriental...

Campus Watch

"To me there is no difference between Lynndie England and Azar Nafisi," Hamid Dabashi, who is himself of Iranian origin and believes that Nafisi's book is a conscious part of the softening-up for an American bombing campaign in Iran, has said.

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Campus Watch

That Irwin can point to very few Orientalists, even at present, who evince sincere respect for the people of the region is not unrelated to the belief that, since the texts are central and Orientalists know the texts, Orientalists know best.

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