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Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science

Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science [Kindle Edition]

Jim Al-Khalili
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Brings alive the bubbling invention and delighted curiosity of the Islamic world ... his command of Arabic mathematical physics invests his story with sympathy as well as authority (Tim Radford Guardian)

A fascinating and user-friendly guide to this whole scientific movement (Noel Malcolm Seven, Sunday Telegraph)

Jim Al-Khalili has a passion for bringing to a wider audience not just the facts of science but its history ... Just as the legacy of Copernicus and Darwin belongs to all of us, so does that of Ibn Sina and Ibn al-Haytham. To think otherwise, as this book so powerfully reveals, is to do disservice to the tradition to which they belong (Kenan Malik Independent)

Spry, informative and timely ... Al-Khalili takes the reader through a brisk survey of the highlights of the period (Stuart Kelly Scotland on Sunday)

A fascinating introduction to a neglected area. His approachable style and ability to distil extensive knowledge into simple narrative makes Pathfinders an absorbing read (Siobhan Murphy Metro)

Enjoyable and informative ... provides ample evidence for the compatibility of Islam and science (Sameer Rahim Daily Telegraph)

He has brought a great story out of the shadows (Literary Review)

This captivating book is a timely reminder of the debt owed by the West to the intellectual achievements of Arab, Persian and Muslim scholars (The Times)

Product Description

For over 700 years the international language of science was Arabic. In Pathfinders, Jim al-Khalili celebrates the forgotten pioneers who helped shape our understanding of the world.

All scientists have stood on the shoulders of giants. But most historical accounts today suggest that the achievements of the ancient Greeks were not matched until the European Renaissance in the 16th century, a 1,000-year period dismissed as the Dark Ages. In the ninth-century, however, the Abbasid caliph of Baghdad, Abu Ja'far Abdullah al-Ma'mun, created the greatest centre of learning the world had ever seen, known as Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom. The scientists and philosophers he brought together sparked a period of extraordinary discovery, in every field imaginable, launching a golden age of Arabic science.

Few of these scientists, however, are now known in the western world. Abu Rayhan al-Biruni, a polymath who outshines everyone in history except Leonardo da Vinci? The Syrian astronomer Ibn al-Shatir, whose manuscripts would inspire Copernicus's heliocentric model of the solar system? Or the 13th-century Andalucian physician Ibn al-Nafees, who correctly described blood circulation 400 years before William Harvey? Iraqi Ibn al-Haytham who practised the modern scientific method 700 years before Bacon and Descartes, and founded the field of modern optics before Newton? Or even ninth-century zoologist al-Jahith, who developed a theory of natural selection a thousand years before Darwin?

The West needs to see the Islamic world through new eyes and the Islamic world, in turn, to take pride in its extraordinarily rich heritage. Anyone who reads this book will understand why.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent but in need of a little light editing 20 Dec 2010
A stupendous piece of work by the author and a fascinating read once you get into it. And by putting the work of the scientists of this period into perspective the book also brings out and explains many of the basic scientific issues that have intrigued our species. It also illuminates historical aspects of the relationship between the Islamic world and "the west". I just wish the author had got stuck into the subject matter more quickly and saved us his personal history and photos of himself in Baghdad!

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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The origins of western science 7 April 2011
By Dr. H. A. Jones TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Pathfinders: The golden age of Arabic science, by Jim al-Khalili, Allen Lane, 2010, 336 ff.

The origins of western science
By Howard Jones

In 2002, in her book Ornament of the World, Maria Rosa Menocal gave us an insight into the debt we owe the Islamic civilization of al-Andalus, which from 750 to 1492 did so much to shape the western culture of the post-Renaissance. We tend to think of western science as essentially beginning with Copernicus, with a nod in the direction of some of the ancient Greek philosophers, such as Aristarchus for the heliocentric theory; or Leucippus and Democritus for the atomic theory. Bertrand Russell portrayed the Islamic scholars as doing little other than transcribe the scientific philosophy of ancient Greece. Menocal showed us how Christian, Jewish and Islamic scholars worked together in harmony not only to render ancient Greek ideas into Arabic, Hebrew and Latin, but also to create much that was new. Al-Khalili adds to this source of original knowledge.

Jim al-Khalili presents another side of this story, but his book focuses on the 9th century Abbasid caliphate of Abu Ja'far Abdullah al-Ma'mum that was centred on Baghdad. It was called Bayt al-Hikma, the House of Wisdom. Jim al-Khalili is Professor of Theoretical Physics at the University of Surry and has already written one of the more accessible books on quantum physics. There were scholars in Baghdad in many of the scientific disciplines. The names of some of these have emerged in the west over recent decades, like al-Khwarizmi whose book, the title of which is abbreviated to al-Jebr, gave us our algebra; al-Biruni, who was a contemporary of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and debated the philosophy of science with him.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating 6 Jan 2011
It makes a refreshing change to read a history book written by a scientist. It is quite clear the difference between fact, speculation and personal opinion, something not always the case when a traditional historian writes.

I half expected a book full of excessive gushing praise for the Arab scientists in this period in history but that does not do the writer justice. The book is very clear when the scientists miss the mark but provides sound reasoning for why we should be considering some of these people on a par with the well known greats from Greek and later European history.

Quite hard going at times with rereads needed occasionally but well worth it and necessary to give a sound understanding of not just the work of the scientists but their place in history as of that of their benefactors. Yet another example in history showing the benefits of investment in science and technology to the progress of a civilisation, current leaders in the West should take note!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Lies, lies and even more lies! 3 Aug 2014
By Sam
It is no surprise to me that a writer of Arabic root would try to stick, or I would even dare to say, steal scientist and scholars of other nation and culture. Likes of Khwarizmi, Rhazes, Avicenna, Khayyam, Biruni, Tusi, Farabi....etc were(are) Persian (Non-arabic) scientists, true they may have believed in Islam, but one would argue that it was due to terror and fear that Islam of that age spread all over the Persia. One also have to read the history books and understand how muslim caliphates destroyed the flourishing culture that was Persia and how they stole their intellectual property. An example of it was that Khwarizmi was forced to write his book in Arabic so the arab nations could read and understand it. It is no surprise to me to see such forgeries. A recent example of it is when Arabs try to change the name of "Persian Gulf" to the phony word of "Arabic Gulf". What a load of lies!!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview 26 Aug 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is an interesting book, plugging the gap between the Greeks and the Renaissance in the commonly-told history of science. The ground Al-Khalili covers isn't particularly original, I suspect, but quite a lot of what he had to say was new to me. He writes well, clearly and with expertise, particularly about the Maths and the Physical sciences. In fact I would have liked a bit more detail in these areas. In spite of a useful chapter at the beginning explaining how Arabic names work, I found the impressive list of Arabic scholars the book covers, each with the latinised version of his name as well as the original, was a bit confusing, but that's my problem really. Slightly oddly, Al-Khalili frames the history with his own experiences growing up in Bhagdad, and that of previous generations of his family. This could have been a bit sentimental, but wasnt, and helped to show how Arabic science is faring in the current day. Interesting parallels can be drawn between the burning of the Arabic libraries when the Arabic-speaking world was turning to a more fundamental version of Islam at the start of the Renaissance, and attitudes to science in the US now
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
read if interested in why we are scientific
Published 1 month ago by dr alan houston
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book
Reading this book has given me a valuable insight into the scholarship and genius of the mediaeval Arab scientists. Read more
Published 2 months ago by beanfeasa
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant
The book arrived speedily and well packaged. My son says it is the most interesting book he has EVER read and was extremely sad when he finished it.
Published 9 months ago by Mrs. Ch Azis-clauson
5.0 out of 5 stars Mediterranean interactions
I have always been interested in the great age of Arabian science, philosophy, literature, etc. and on how indebted we Europeans are to them. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Marigonda Maria Vitt
4.0 out of 5 stars A plethora of pathfinders
I came across this because it was shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Writing and it was deservedly so shortlisted. Read more
Published 11 months ago by P. J. Dunn
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Repositioning of History of Scientific Development
Clear and easy to follow rendition of a complex and potentially highly charged period of history/cultural development in a scientific context. Read more
Published 12 months ago by Robert M STUBBINGS
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and informative
A good review of the contributions of Arabic scientists, well-written and detailed. Al-Khalili's project is to show that, far from simply being unimaginative transmitters of... Read more
Published 14 months ago by Stuart
4.0 out of 5 stars Arab history
Islam gets a bad press in the West, and this book demonstrates why this is often misplaced. Baghdad must have been some place at the end of the 1st millenium.
Published 16 months ago by R. Hotchkis
4.0 out of 5 stars Very Good Read about the history of Arabic science.
I enjoyed reading this book - you can clearly see from the pictures and the way he writes about Iraq, that he is very proud of his dual heritage and both sides of his family. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Jack of all Trades, Master of none
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing book
Having read this book over the Christmas holiday, I have to register my deep disappointment in the work. Read more
Published 19 months ago by Dr. P. R. Lewis
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