House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

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Overview

"Jonathan Lyons introduces us to brilliant Muslim thinkers, such as al-Khwarizmi, pioneer of algebra; Avicenna, the physician and philosopher; Gaber, who made great advances in chemistry; and Averroes, renowned simply as "The Commentator" for his writings that expounded and extended Aristotle's great works of logic." Even while their countrymen waged bloody Crusades against Muslims, a handful of restless Christian scholars, hungry for knowledge, traveled to the East to seek out the great minds of the Arab world. In 1109, Adelard of Bath journeyed from England to Asia Minor and returned with priceless jewels of astronomy and mathematics that transformed European science. He was followed by others, such as Michael Scot - condemned to hell by Dante for sorcery - who learned Arabic in Toledo and shook the Christian world to its roots with his translations of Averroes. The innovations and ideas of Arab thinkers did nothing less than lay the foundation for the Renaissance.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Sophisticated and thoughtful... In The House of Wisdom, [Lyons] shapes his narrative around the travels of the little-known but extraordinary Adelard of Bath, an English monk who traveled to the East in the early 12th century.... Mr. Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant."—Wall Street Journal

"With a storyteller's eye for the revealing detail and an artist's feel for the sweep of history, Jonathan Lyons has uncovered the debt that the Christian world—and Western civilization—owes to Muslim philosophy and science. House of Wisdom is a fascinating and picturesque page-turner."—Ian Bremmer, author of The J Curve

"Lyons capably delineates the fascinating journey of this knowledge to the West, highlighting a few key figures, including Adelard of Bath, whose years spent in Antioch paid off grandly in bringing forth his translations of Euclid and al-Khwarizmi; and Michael Scot, science adviser and court astrologer to Frederick II, who translated Avicenna and Averroes."—Kirkus

"The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization is a 320-page treasure trove of information for the uninitiated that packs a powerful punch of science, history, geography, politics and general knowledge at a time when so much disinformation about the Arab world is swirling around in various media."—Magda Abu-Fadil, Huffington Post

"Jonathan Lyons tells the story of the House of Wisdom, the caliphs who supported it and the people who worked there, at a riveting, breakneck pace."Times (UK)

“Sophisticated and thoughtful…In The House of Wisdom, Jonathan Lyons shapes his narrative around the travels of the little-known but extraordinary Adelard of Bath, an English monk who traveled to the East in the early 12th century and learned Arabic well enough to translate mathematical treatises into English…. Mr. Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant.” –Eric Ormsby, Wall Street Journal

“Jonathan Lyons vividly conveys the excitement young European scholars travelling east must have felt as they glimpsed a dazzling new world of learning.” –Jo Marchant, New Scientist (UK)

“In unearthing this buried intellectual heritage, Jonathan Lyons gives us a new and important understanding of our historical and cultural relation to Islam and the Arab world… this is a well crafted, powerful account which asks us to re-examine our assumptions about East and West, a task never so necessary as now.” –Marc Lambert, Scotsman (UK)

“This is a refreshing book, one that discovers, or rediscovers, common ground between Islam and Christendom, a historical survey that reminds us that civilizations can converse as well as clash.” –Robert Cremins, Houston Chronicle

Library Journal

During the medieval period (500-1500 C.E.), much of Western Europe was a cultural backwater, characterized by ignorance, illiteracy, and violence. At the same time the Arabic world, including Antioch, CA³rdoba, and Baghdad (where the House of Wisdom, a library, book repository, and academy of scholars, was located) witnessed a flowering of scholars, libraries, scientific advances in medicine, mathematics, geography, astronomy, and agriculture, as well as the translation from Greek of Aristotle, Euclid, and Ptolemy, and other important works from Hindu and Persian scholars. Lyons (former editor, Reuters) shows us not only the Christian scholars, e.g., Adelard of Bath, in their quest for Arabic books and knowledge but also some of the great Muslim scholars like Albumazar and Averroes, as well as rulers and religious leaders-both Christian and Muslim. Lively and well researched, the book clarifies how Arabic books, ideas, and knowledge were found and brought back to Europe to help shape Western ideas. With a list of significant events and leading figures; highly recommended for general readers. (Bibliography, notes, and illustrations not seen.)
—Melissa Aho

Kirkus Reviews
Former Reuters editor and foreign correspondent Lyons fashions an accessible study about early Western acquisition of scientific knowledge from the Arab world. Wading through centuries of anti-Muslim propaganda, Lyons traces how the brilliance of Arab knowledge, brought back by visiting scholars from intellectual centers like Baghdad, Antioch and Cordoba, transformed Western notions of science and philosophy. The Western "recovery" of classical learning, as championed later in the Renaissance, was actually first transmitted by these early Arab giants of learning, many of whom emerged from the Baghdad think tank, translation bureau and book repository called the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma), built by Caliph al-Mansur in the eighth century. The Baghdad court linked the triumphs of classical wisdom-especially that of the Greeks-with Persian, Hindu and other traditions, spurring the work of significant Arab thinkers such as al-Khwarizmi, who developed star tables, algebra and the astrolabe; al-Idrisi, who accepted a royal commission by Roger II of once-Muslim Sicily to construct the first comprehensive world's map, The Book of Roger; Avicenna, a Persian philosopher and physician who was an authority on medicine; and Averroes, the Muslim philosopher whose commentaries on Aristotle were a major contribution to Western thought. Lyons capably delineates the fascinating journey of this knowledge to the West, highlighting a few key figures, including Adelard of Bath, whose years spent in Antioch paid off grandly in bringing forth his translations of Euclid and al-Khwarizmi; and Michael Scot, science adviser and court astrologer to Frederick II, who translated Avicenna and Averroes. Lyonscleverly-though too briefly-ties these early theories to the work of Thomas Aquinas and Copernicus and the subsequent "invention of the West."Pertinent study that should aid in a better understanding between East and West. Author events in Washington, D.C. Agent: Will Lippincott/Lippincott Massie McQuilkin
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596914599
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 12/23/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Jonathan Lyons served as editor and foreign correspondent - mostly in the Muslim world - for Reuters for more than 20 years. He is now a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Center and a PhD candidate in sociology of religion, both at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

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Table of Contents

Significant Events

Leading Figures

Prologue: Al-Maghrib/Sunset 1

Pt. I Al-Isha/Nightfall 7

1 The Warriors of God 9

2 The Earth Is Like a Wheel 28

Pt. II Al-Fajr/Dawn 53

3 The House of Wisdom 55

4 Mapping the World 78

Pt. III Al-Zuhr/Midday 101

5 The First Man of Science 103

6 "What Is Said of the Sphere ..." 125

7 "The Wisest Philosophers of the World" 142

Pt. IV Al-Asr/ Afternoon 163

8 On the Eternity of the World 165

9 The Invention of the West 186

Acknowledgments 203

Notes 205

Selected Bibliography 229

Index 237

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