The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance

The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance

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by Jim Al-Khalili
     
 

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A myth-shattering view of the Islamic world's myriad scientific innovations and the role they played in sparking the European Renaissance.

Many of the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of Western science had their roots in the Arab world of the middle ages, a period when much of Western Christendom lay in intellectual darkness. Jim al- Khalili, a

Overview

A myth-shattering view of the Islamic world's myriad scientific innovations and the role they played in sparking the European Renaissance.

Many of the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of Western science had their roots in the Arab world of the middle ages, a period when much of Western Christendom lay in intellectual darkness. Jim al- Khalili, a leading British-Iraqi physicist, resurrects this lost chapter of history, and given current East-West tensions, his book could not be timelier. With transporting detail, al-Khalili places readers in the hothouses of the Arabic Enlightenment, shows how they led to Europe's cultural awakening, and poses the question: Why did the Islamic world enter its own dark age after such a dazzling flowering?

Editorial Reviews

John Noble Wilford
Jim al-Khalili…has taken on the task of elevating this neglected period to its rightful place in history. His new book, The House of Wisdom, reflects a depth of research, an ability to tell a fascinating story well and fair-­mindedness where minds too often are closed.
—The New York Times
Library Journal
There is a commonly held view that during the Middle Ages, Arabic scientists focused mainly on translating into Arabic the scientific knowledge of ancient civilizations while contributing little to scientific advancement. Physicist al-Khalili (Univ. of Surrey, UK; Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed) vigorously challenges this theory by documenting the remarkable contributions of Arabic astronomers, mathematicians, physicians, physicists, chemists, and philosophers, who were scholars at a scientific academy in Baghdad known as the House of Wisdom. While the names of these "forgotten geniuses and unsung heroes" may be unfamiliar to most of us, their scientific legacies still reverberate. One such legacy is that algebra was developed as a distinct branch of mathematics by House of Wisdom scholar al-Khwarizmi in the ninth century. VERDICT Al-Khalili brings to life a vibrant intellectual period of Islamic history when there was not only tolerance for other religions and cultures but a synergy between science and Islam. Anyone interested in the early history of science or the development of the scientific method before Galileo will find this an engaging study.—Cynthia Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Lib., Flemington, NJ

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143120568
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/27/2012
Pages:
336
Sales rank:
300,508
Product dimensions:
5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.10(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

Jim al-Khalili is a leading theoretical nuclear physicist, a trustee of the British Science Association, and a senior advisor to the British Council on science and technology. He has written a number of popular science books, which have been translated into thirteen languages so far.

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The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
sergevansteenkiste More than 1 year ago
Professor Jim Al-Khalili demonstrates with much conviction that contrary to popular belief, the birth of the modern scientific method did not occur during the European Renaissance, but in the Arabic world in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The modern scientific method relies on hard empirical evidence, experimentation, and testability of theories. Professor Al-Khalili uses the word "Arabic" rather than "Islamic" to differentiate "Arabic science" from Greek, Indian, and European Renaissance science. "Arabic science" refers to the science carried out by those scientists who lived in the Abbasid Empire, or who wrote their scientific texts in Arabic, the language of science in the medieval world. Professor Al-Khalili concentrates most of his attention on pure sciences such as astronomy, chemistry, mathematics, and medicine. In contrast to Western Europe until the early fifteenth century, the Arabic world progressively created the favorable conditions in which the great polymaths such as Ibn al-Haytham (Alhazen), Ibn Sina (Avicenna), al-Biruni, and Ibn Khaldun were able to rise to prominence. The Arabic world was host to dozens of thriving centers of excellence in science, not only in Baghdad, but also across North Africa and Spain and to the east in Persia and Central Asia. Professor Al-Khalili clearly explains that Spain became the main conduit for transferring the Arabic science to Western Europe in the wake of the Reconquista. The rebirth of European scholarship benefited greatly from the capture of Toledo, Cordoba, and Granada. This rebirth also found fertile ground first in Florence, and subsequently in the rest of Europe because of the favorable conditions existing in these locations. Professor Al-Khalili is at his weakest when he reviews the reasons behind the slow decline of Arabic science between the thirteenth and sixteenth centuries. The author rightly rejects the argument that the golden age of science in the Arabic world came to a sudden end with the fall of Baghdad to the Mongols in 1258. Science continued to flourish in other locations within the Arabic-speaking world after this event. In contrast, Professor Al-Khalili is clearly ambivalent about the rise of religious conservatism in the eleventh century that has inflicted lasting damage to the spirit of rationalism within the Arabic-speaking world to this day. Hiding behind the legacy of colonialism cannot erase the fact that there are undeniable tensions that still exist between science and religion in some parts of the Muslim world. To his credit, Professor Al-Khalili notes that some Muslim countries are investing in the infrastructure conducive to the further development of science. Both the volume and quality of scientific research in the Arab world have been negligible on a worldwide basis. At the same time, the author reminds Muslims and non-Muslims that what is even more important than money thrown at this poor showing is the political will to reform and to ensure real freedom of thinking. In summary, Professor Al-Khalili wants to sensitize Muslims and non-Muslims about the numerous contributions that the Arabic science made to the development of humanity during the Middle Ages. Hopefully, the Arab Spring will turn out to be a decisive catalyst to convince more Muslims that science is not the adversary of their spiritual beliefs.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am just starting to read this and I am very interested in the paradoxes, but he is going in all detail about where it originated and stuff. I think that just saying VERY LITTLE about where it came from would be better and pu more paradox stuff, but thats just me. :)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good informations and a good book.