Irish Orientalism: A Literary and Intellectual History by Joseph Lennon is a book that fulfils two principal roles. First, it is is history of the contact and mutual influence between Ireland and what one might broadly call "the East," spanning over a thousand years. Initially, the focus is on the near East, and on great cities such as Byzantium. Ireland has been described as "the Byzantium of the West" for its role in the preservation of classical literature and learning throughout the Middle Ages, and Lennon examines the monastic tradition, with cosmopolitan figures such as Dicuil, who quotes from Numidian and Byzantine works alongside Homer and Herodotus.
The second role of the book is to be a specifically Irish companion piece to Edward Said's Orientalism. Said read the draft of Lennon's book shortly before he died in 2003, and gave it his approval. Lennon uses Irish examples such as Thomas Moore and W. B. Yeats to illustrate Said's postcolonial thesis that Western art and literature presented a simplified view of Eastern societies, and that this perspective was used to justify imperial conquest. He also points out how many Irishmen were involved in the actual military conquest, showing, for instance, that between 1825 and 1850, almost half the army recruits serving in Bangladesh were Irish. The book is, therefore, ambitious in the diversity of disciplines it covers, ranging over literature, politics, social and military history, and literary theory, as well as in its historical reach.