Lewis, a member of Princeton's Near Eastern Studies Department and one of the great scholars of Semitic history, demonstrates that the best elementary generalizations about a subject are provided by the most deeply learned. The three short essays which form this book originally comprised a set of lectures at Yeshiva University in 1974; they present a set of broad postulates about how societies use history, illustrated with reference to Jewish and Islamic history. Lewis distinguishes between "remembered" history (that which supplements the traditions of a society or keeps alive a sense of solidarity with origins) and "invented" history (that which is purposefully used to change the future by changing the perception of the common past). Between or outside of these lies "recovered" history -- the more specialized result of scholarly endeavor. Lewis shows how "recovered" history is necessarily influenced by the other two as the scholar responds to the pressures of his own societal or political experience. He doesn't shrink from a certain partisanship as be warns of of the questionable value placed by Jews on Israeli heroism (as embodied in the newly refurbished cult of the Masada) and takes Muslim historians to task for recent enthusiasm for denouncing the work of Western scholars on the Middle East. Unlike E.H. Cart or R.G. Collingwood, Lewis doesn't venture into broad issues of historical theory or epistemology; he stays firmly on the path of common sense illuminated by uncommon knowledge.