10 Things You Didn’t Know About Bernard Lewis & Family

Renowned as one of the world’s leading intellectuals on the Middle East and Islam, Bernard Lewis carved out a distinctive niche for himself in both academia and policy advisement. However, he was not only a scholar; he was a respected family man with interesting aspects in his life that often go unnoticed. In this article, we will shed light on Bernard Lewis and his family. But before delving into the top ten unknown facts about him, it is necessary to provide an overview of this celebrated personality.

1. Lewis and his Stint with British Intelligence

Bernard Lewis served in the British Army during World War II. However, his contributions were not on the battlefield. Lewis’s area of expertise was Middle Eastern history and politics, which he provided to the British Intelligence services. This experience gave him an in-depth view of the region’s geometrically complex political, ethnic, and religious dynamics.

It was during this time that Lewis honed his skills as a linguist, mastering over a dozen languages, including Turkish, Persian, and Arabic. These languages were crucial in understanding the complexities of the Middle East.

2. His Contribution to Princeton University

Although born in London, Lewis’s monumental works in Oriental and Middle Eastern studies have become part of the intellectual canon in America, primarily through his 25-year-plus stint at Princeton University. There, Lewis significantly raised the bar in terms of Middle Eastern study and understanding. He wrote extensively, and his works are often cited in academic circles, proving his enduring legacy.

Interestingly, Lewis worked at Princeton until the school’s mandatory retirement age, but even after his formal retirement, he continued to lecture occasionally there. His reputation, in many ways, is still tied to this Ivy League institution.

3. Lewis was a Prolific Author

Bernard Lewis wrote more than 30 books, which dealt with Islamic history as well as the relationship of the West and the Middle East. His works, one of the most famous being “The Crisis of Islam: Holy War and Unholy Terror,” were translated into more than two dozen languages, further solidifying his global influence.

Through his writing, Lewis filled a much-needed intellectual gap, explaining to Western civilians the complex and nuanced dynamics of the Middle East and Islam. His work continues to inform many of today’s discussions about this important area of the world.

4. Lewis’s Influence on Global Policies

Through his extensive work, Lewis was instrumental in shaping Western attitudes toward the Middle East. He was a consultant for various governments, including the U.S., on Middle Eastern affairs and terrorism. His views influenced much of U.S. policy in the Middle East, particularly during the George W. Bush administration.

His influence extended beyond academia and into the real world, making him one of the most astute observers and analyzers of Middle Eastern affairs in his time. His insights, which highlight the long-standing cultural and religious issues, are still relevant today.

5. He Was Married Only Once

Bernard Lewis was married to Ruth Hélène Oppenhejm, a psychoanalyst by profession. They were married for more than five decades until her unfortunate demise in 1995. Lewis and Oppenhejm had a daughter, named Melanie, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and specialized in psychoanalytical psychotherapy.

In a world where relationships often face strife, their long and successful marriage was testament to their strong bond and shared values. Despite his prominence, Lewis chose to keep his private life away from the public eye, sharing only limited information about his family.

6. His Daughter Melanie

Melanie Lewis, Bernard and Ruth’s only child, inherited her parents’ passion for intellectual pursuits. She trained as a psychoanalytical psychotherapist, practicing in London. Melanie has successfully carried forward her mother’s professional legacy and in her way has continued to impact lives.

Although she did not follow the same academic trajectory as her father, Melanie boasts the same intellectual curiosity and dedication to her field, upholding the reputation of the Lewis family.

7. Bernard Lewis’s Legacy

Despite his passing, Bernard Lewis’s influence continues to endure through his written work and speeches. His ground-breaking research in Middle Eastern studies has helped shape the discourse around Islam for many years and continues to do so.

Furthermore, his methodology and writings have paved the way for future scholars studying the Middle Eastern region. As a result, his name remains synonymous with deep, nuanced understanding of the Middle East, a testament to his lasting impact.

8. Lewis’s Distinctive View on Orientalism

Unlike many scholars, Lewis took a distinctive approach to Orientalist studies. While he acknowledged the West’s role in Middle Eastern affairs, he also stressed the importance of understanding and considering regional dynamics and internal factors independently of Western influence.

Lewis believed in viewing this region through a nuanced and balanced lens – a view that garnered him both criticism and immense respect. His stand on Orientalism further distinguishes him from other scholars of his time.

9. A Passion for Languages

Lewis’s passion for languages was something that not everyone knows about him. He was fluent in English, Italian, Romanian, Ottoman Turkish, modern Turkish, French, German, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew, Arabic, and Persian.

This linguistic prowess not only made him one of the most revered scholars, but it also allowed him to access a wealth of uninterpreted literature directly, thereby facilitating his groundbreaking research in Middle Eastern studies.

10. Lewis Had a Twin Brother

Often overlooked in biographies and discussions about Lewis is the fact that he was a twin. His twin brother, Geoffrey Lewis, was an eminent scholar of Turkish language and linguistics. Just like Bernard, Geoffrey spent a substantial part of his life in academia, and his contributions to his field have been invaluable.

The Lewis brothers’ passion for Middle Eastern languages and cultures was a shared trait. This common intellectual pursuit allowed the brothers to establish themselves as respected figures in their respective fields.

In conclusion, Bernard Lewis was a man of great intellect and character. His contributions to the understanding of the Middle East and Islam cannot be overstated. From his time serving in the British Army to his prolific career as a scholar and author, his legacy continues to influence modern thought about Islam and the Middle East.

Learn more about Bernard Lewis and his influential work through these links:

Bernard Lewis at Princeton University
Bernard Lewis on Britannica
Obituary of Geoffrey Lewis in The Guardian