Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

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Overview

"Lost Enlightenment brilliantly re-creates for us the world of Central Asia, which for centuries was not a backwater but a center of world civilization. With a sure mastery of the large historical sweep as well as an eye for detail, Fred Starr has written an important book that will be a resource for years to come."—Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order

"For more than three hundred years the Islamic world exercised the scientific and philosophical mastery of...

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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

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Overview

"Lost Enlightenment brilliantly re-creates for us the world of Central Asia, which for centuries was not a backwater but a center of world civilization. With a sure mastery of the large historical sweep as well as an eye for detail, Fred Starr has written an important book that will be a resource for years to come."—Francis Fukuyama, author of The Origins of Political Order

"For more than three hundred years the Islamic world exercised the scientific and philosophical mastery of Europe. With compelling urgency and lucidity, Lost Enlightenment tells the story of the rise and tragic demise of this golden age of Islamic learning in Central Asia. It is a story whose lesson we should never be allowed to forget."—Anthony Pagden, author of The Enlightenment: And Why It Still Matters

"From 800 to 1200, Central Asia was the world's most advanced civilization in the sciences, mathematics, medicine, law, and art. Starr's Lost Enlightenment thoughtfully explains this astonishing evolution and its end."—Henry A. Kissinger

"Fred Starr makes the most persuasive case yet that medieval Central Asia was a major center of civilization and high culture—and what a picture emerges."—Richard W. Bulliet, Columbia University

"Drawing on his vast knowledge and experience of Central Asia, Fred Starr provides a brilliant account of the history and culture of the land that produced some of the greatest Islamic scholars, scientists, saints, artists, and architects. Thanks to this book, the Central Asian enlightenment is no longer as lost as some might think."—Seyyed Hossein Nasr, George Washington University

"A delight to read, this is a fine survey of the intellectual and cultural history of Central Asia by a distinguished historian. By showing the remarkable discoveries in astronomy, mathematics, medicine, and other fields made by Central Asians from the earliest times, Lost Enlightenment is certain to surprise many readers by challenging traditional misconceptions of the region. The book's biographical approach makes for lively reading. Anyone interested in the Silk Roads will find it enthralling."—Morris Rossabi, author of The Mongols: A Very Short Introduction

"This ambitious and much-needed book will be an eye-opener for many readers. S. Frederick Starr shows that Central Asia, often viewed today as a backwater, produced some of the most outstanding minds of the Middle Ages."—Peter B. Golden, author of Central Asia in World History

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American Publishers

"Starr argues rightly that the region's brilliant culture rested on a highly cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups, languages and religions; a long, rich pre-Islamic intellectual tradition (mainly Buddhist); and prosperity. . . . Starr shines in his core chapters, where he presents the great achievements of the Central Asian philosopher-scientists at a time when their homeland was the creative intellectual capital of the world."—Nature

"Starr is that rare scholar with the horsepower to write about the medieval culture of this vast region that is bounded by Persia to the west, and China to the east, and India to the southeast. . . . An indispensable title for scholars, this lively study should prove equally compelling to serious lay readers with an interest in Arabic and medieval thought."—Library Journal, starred review

"In this graceful, luxuriant history, Starr recovers the stunning contributions of Central Asia scientists, architects, artists, engineers, and historians during the four centuries that began just before the Arab onslaught of the eight century and lasted until the Mongol siege in the thirteenth century. . . . The book offers a lucid exploration of the era's intricate philosophical and theological debates and a succinct depiction of its poetry and art, enhanced by many illustrations."—Foreign Affairs

"Lost Enlightenment is a most amazing book, one with—if we are lucky—the potential to shape global public thinking for decades ahead. . . . Lost Enlightenment is an entirely readable, informative and even entertaining book. Although it might surely serve as an inspiration to the modern inhabitants of Central Asia, it should also serve as a warning to any modern nation and civilization that it is tempted to intolerance."—Dimitry Chen, Asian Review of Books

"Starr undertakes a daunting task—the intellectual history of Central Asia through the medieval period. Happily, he succeeds. . . . Starr's book is thorough and well researched, and includes ample supplemental material and sources, so that even novice students will find it instructive and useful without being overwhelming."—Choice

Library Journal
★ 01/01/2014
Starr (Central Asia-Caucasus Inst., Johns Hopkins Univ.) is that rare scholar with the horsepower to write about the medieval culture of this vast region that is bounded by Persia to the west, China to the east, and India to the southeast. He argues that much of what we subsume as "Arabic" contributions to the intellectual life of medieval Islam, because they were expressed in the Arabic language, should be termed Central Asian instead because the region was not simply Islamic. It was rich in polymath scholars who used geometry, mathematics, and formal logic to explore a variety of subjects with astonishing results. Starr is convincing that Central Asia was for centuries "the center of the intellectual world." By the late 11th century, when the Persian divine Al-Ghazali attacked reason and intellectual disagreement in defense of faith, the atmosphere of intellectual openness that made this rich ferment of ideas possible had dissipated. Central Asia's intellectual dominance of the Islamic world soon ended. Starr's spacious book enables him, for example, to discourse at length on such subjects as Al-Biruni's remarkable 11th-century history of India, an early monument of cultural anthropology. VERDICT An indispensable title for scholars, this lively study should prove equally compelling to serious lay readers with an interest in Arabic and medieval thought.—David Keymer, Modesto, CA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691157733
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 10/13/2013
  • Pages: 696
  • Sales rank: 159,620
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.50 (h) x 1.90 (d)

Meet the Author

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a research and policy center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. A past president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, he began his career in classical archaeology, excavating at Gordium in modern Turkey and mapping the Persian Royal Road.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations ix
Preface xiii
Dramatis Personae xxi
Chronology xxxi
Chapter 1 The Center of the World 1
Chapter 2 Worldly Urbanists, Ancient Land 28
Chapter 3 A Cauldron of Skills, Ideas, and Faiths 62
Chapter 4 How Arabs Conquered Central Asia and Central Asia Then Set the Stage to Conquer Baghdad 101
Chapter 5 East Wind over Baghdad 126
Chapter 6 Wandering Scholars 156
Chapter 7 Khurasan: Central Asia's Rising Star 194
Chapter 8 A Flowering of Central Asia: The Samanid Dynasty 225
Chapter 9 A Moment in the Desert: Gurganj under the Mamuns 267
Chapter 10 Turks Take the Stage: Mahmud of Kashgar and Yusuf of Balasagun 303
Chapter 11 Culture under a Turkic Marauder: Mahmud's Ghazni 332
Chapter 12 Tremors under the Dome of Seljuk Rule 381
Chapter 13 The Mongol Century 436
Chapter 14 Tamerlane and His Successors 478
Chapter 15 Retrospective: The Sand and the Oyster 515
Notes 541
Index 611

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 2.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted February 23, 2014

    Coming to "Lost Enlightenment" as an enthusiastic read

    Coming to "Lost Enlightenment" as an enthusiastic reader of intellectual history, I found myself drawn--while reading the Introduction and a few pages afterwards--into shocking aggrandizement of Central Asia and unnecessary extolment of eminence of the region's achievements. I agree with other reviewers that the reader is left with the impression that the quality of that era has been forcedly raised. Perhaps because S. Frederick Starr chairs the Johns Hopkins University-based Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, he considers it necessary to produce an account, in which the region stands out as the hub of his own egomorphic features and professional tastes. For most of his recent career Starr focused on the region's energy and environmental issues, oil politics, Islamic faith and culture, as well as on political technologies that revealed his notorious support for local dictatorial regimes. Therefore, the historical, ethnonymic, and terminological components in his otherwise meticulously researched and richly illustrated book are sometimes flawed.




    To begin with, history knows no such era as "Central Asia's Golden Age". History knows The Islamic Golden Age, which started with the rise of Abbasid dynasty beginning in the mid-8th century lasting until the Mongol conquest of Baghdad in 1258. In the time period that Starr focuses his research on, that is, between the years 800 and 1200, Central Asia never acted as a self-sufficient region. Therefore, it could not independently "lead the world" in trade and economic development, as Starr wishes the readers to believe. The region constituted a part of the Abbasid Caliphate at the time, by the ascension of which the Islamic Golden Age was inaugurated. Starr's use of the term "Central Asia's Golden Age" is pure revisionism.




    Further, there is no such ethnonym as "Central Asians", as used by the author. Historically, the region has been closely tied to its nomadic peoples. During pre-Islamic and early Islamic times, Central Asia was a predominantly Iranian (Persian) region that included the sedentary and advanced Eastern Iranian-speaking Bactrians, Sogdians and Khwarezmians. After expansion by nomadic Turkic tribes, Central Asia also became the homeland for Turkic peoples, such as the Kazakhs, Uzbeks, Turkmen, Kyrgyz and Uyghurs.




    One cannot but notice Starr's prejudice towards the ancient Iranian populations, who played the most important role in the history of Central Asia. His usage of the term "Persianate" is dubious, as is his newly-minted ethnonym "Persianate people". The term "Persianate" refers to anything that is either based on or strongly influenced by the Persian (Iranian) language, culture, literature, art, and identity. It is, for the most part, the Iranian sedentary populations of the region that achieved breakthroughs in astronomy, mathematics, geology, medicine, chemistry, music, social science, philosophy, and theology. Central Asia was part of the First Persian Empire, or the Achaemenid Empire, that existed in 550-330 BC and then, after the expansion of Islam, a part of the Abbasid Caliphate, which heavily borrowed its governance system from the Persians. The language spoken by most of the inhabitants of the area was Persian (Farsi).




    I stopped reading on p. 18, where Starr wrote: "Present Iranians cannot understand these older writers on the account they were Persianite, not Iranians, and these present Iranians are something else". No, they aren't. Present-day Iranians perfectly read and easily comprehend Firdawsi and Omar Khayyam, because these and other figures, such as Biruni, were ethnic Persians, even though Biruni, for one, was born in Khwarezm.




    I believe the author could have done better job had he continued with education he had received from Princeton, instead of shady business of political technologies and suppression of freedom of choice of certain individuals.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 4, 2014

    The author attempts to create a thorough and well researched his

    The author attempts to create a thorough and well researched history of the content of intellectual contributions in a very large area, from Baghdad east.  He carefully describes both the geographical and ethnic origin of these authors, and the reasons they wrote in the languages that they did.  There is also a great deal of general Islamic history to give context to the political and religious aspects of these works.  The author spent decades doing original research and is to be commended for this work.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 21, 2013

    The book has stolen and misrepresented what is called Persian c

    The book has stolen and misrepresented what is called Persian culture and literature as central Asian! The scholars he talk about were Persian speaking. And this part of central Asia a has always been part of Persia, Some parts separated in 19th century!

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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