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

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

3.2 4
by S. Frederick Starr

ISBN-10: 0691157731

ISBN-13: 9780691157733

Pub. Date: 10/13/2013

Publisher: Princeton University Press

"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

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"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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Princeton University Press
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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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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
twbdoe777 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I rated this book highly because it offers a thorough and rigorous view of a time and place about which I had pretty much everything to learn. I had just previously enjoyed a history of Iran (Axworthy's) and there was some overlap, but the exploration was still completely fresh to me. I was amazed at the low rating it had when I got here and, though I've never reviewed on B&N before, felt I should in this case because (not that it profoundly changed my life or anything) I am very far from imagining it deserves only two stars. I say this, please, with all fair credit to the opinions of the several reviewers who may rightfully disagree. I think if one considers that he might enjoy such a history as this, he probably won't be disappointed (unless he have the particular qualms listed below or some other equally specific and unexpected by the general audience). On which point, I have to be honest some more ignorance on my part: I don't seem to know anything about the offense Mr. Starr seems to have given by using of 'Central Asian' as opposed to something specifically closer to 'Persian.' Myself, I read the reviews which take this issue with his work and I can see there must be a misunderstanding somewhere; it's possibly mine, then. But I hope it may be of some consolation to any offended person that my reading of Lost Enlightenment left me with the impression that the "Central Asians" I was hearing about were (it would be unfair to say exclusively) "Persians" or, if not, generally members of "Iranian" or "Greater Iranian" societies. I think it is accurate to say that these societies were also located in that certain part of Asia which lies between and overlaps the traditional geographic boundaries of "the Mid East," "South Asia," "East Asia," so forth. If it may be of use to this question of recognition for the proper heritages, this reviewer read the entire book and did not find that Mr. Starr's use of the term "Central Asian" misled or clouded any due credit. He certainly mentioned Iran/"Persia" and related words continually. In my mind, the term "Central Asia," though it be an exonym, had a clear and plainly utilitarian usage, comparable in some contexts to using "the Mediterranean," indicating a large number of ethnic groups, polities, and religious bodies sharing a recognizable area, without giving a sense of discredit to the contributions of "Greeks." To acknowledge another criticism: the numerous wonders and geniuses Mr. Starr details make one wonder if there might be some exaggeration, is apt. I did start a running joke with m'lady that every random object I point to will turn out to be "Central Asian." But to be serious, this wonder arises, for my experience, more from an English language historiographic issue than anything. One may have read numerous sources alluding vaguely to the luminary careers of al-Biruni, ibn Sina, al-Razi, and countless others; to the storied legacy of Samarkand and other hubs of the Silk Road; and generally to the tremendous intellectual activity of "Islamic civilization" in this book's period. But for all this I had never been made aware of the correlation that so many of these people and events originated specifically in the same geographic and cultural region, and I didn't know the details of their brilliant legacies by having heard them alluded, either. One can readily check elsewhere if such-and-such persons really were born in the territory of Iran, say, if it seems amazing that so many formative ideas originated from Central Asia, which makes it all much more credible, if no less amazing. I would not say that one should withhold the grain of salt, but I would not say at all (as a social sciences professional, myself) that the level of bias-awareness required by this book is very great: Mr. Starr cites properly, is clear and frank about the less "brilliant" and flattering incidents that happen along (I was actually not expecting a less fair treatment of the Mongols, but his account was much better balanced than is typical in my experience), and over all was under par on exciting my suspicions. To repeat a general review I've posted elsewhere, Mr. Starr paints a very interesting picture of Central Asia and for very many centuries. He does not fail his claim that the region has a "Lost Enlightenment." The numerous parallels to the better known European Enlightenment are most striking: right down to the Brethren of Purity as a rough counterpart to the 18th century Masons (my comparison, not his). The huge debt which world civilization would seem to owe the nowadays-obscure region is most impressive. And at any rate you can be confident it's a good read if you did click for pre-modern Central Asia with any idea that the subject could interest you.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!