The author did a nice job of fleshing out the biographical story of Ibn Al-Haytham. Ibn Al-Haytham, a Muslim, had grown up amongst Muslims in Baghdad and seriously entertained the arguments between different schools of thought. In the end, he decided that there was only one Islam and that interpretations were the result of the different comprehension abilities amongst individuals. How then, he asked, can the religion of Islam (peace through submission to God) be articulated so that all may understand equally? The answer, he determined, lies in mathematics. No one argues that 2+2=4. If he could mathematically describe Islam, then everyone would understand God's Final Testament equally.
He studied the mathematics of the ancient Greeks. Then he wrote books on geometry and building construction. When his unappreciated genius riled the anti-Islamic dictator in Baghdad, he pretended mental illness. Just as Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber, put himself into a Denver psychiatric hospital to escape the mob after Sonny Liston was murdered, so too had Ibn Al-Haytham sought to escape the dictator's ire.
Then he went to Egypt after being summoned to build a dam. He determined that a dam could be built where it was eventually built in the 20th century, but he knew that logistically it would cost the Egyptian dictator too much to build and the high cost might upset him. The dictator was upset anyway, and again Ibn Al-Haytham pretended mental illness. He was arrested anyway and wrote 'The Book of Optics' while incarcerated. He was finally released and he returned to Baghdad where he wrote 90 more books on science before he died.
The author, Bradley Steffens did a good job transliterating the Arabic into English. However, he made some serious blunders concerning Spain. Spain was created in the early 1470s when King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella merged their respective kingdoms and formed the new Catholic country of Spain in Iberia. So when Steffens writes that "The only area of medieval Europe that had eluded the grasp of Christendom was Spain, which remained under Muslim rule" (p 95), he blunders. Replace Spain with Iberia, then you have it. There's no such thing as "Spanish Muslims" (p 96), only Iberian Muslims. It's like saying that 10,000 years ago the Ice Age hit the U.S.; or Native Americans arrived in the United States when they crossed a land bridge at the Bering Strait. The U.S. did not exist back then. And Spain did not exist in Iberia until the 1470s.
That said, Steffens did a nice job showing how unIslamic the governments were that terrorized Muslim populations and Ibn Al-Haytham in particular. All this before MI6 and CIA moved into the dictator installation and maintenance game in the Middle East. Muslims cannot point the finger at the colonizers alone, because why were dicators governing Muslims when Islam requires Muslims to choose their leader? The Muslim world was so topsy-turvy in Ibn Al-Haytham's time that he had to pretend to be crazy on two separate occasions in order to escape the carpricious wrath of unIslamic dictators in Muslim lands.