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The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization Paperback – 1 Mar 2010

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Product details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (1 Mar. 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408801213
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408801215
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.7 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 175,979 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I have spent much of my professional and personal life exploring the shifting boundaries between East and West, first on both sides of the Cold War divide and, more recently, on the cusp between the Islamic and Western worlds. Over time, I have come to see the relationships between these seemingly polar fields as a problem not of geography or politics (or even geo-politics) but of thought, ideas, and knowledge - that is, as essential problems of epistemology.

This realization prompted me to leave behind more than 20 years as a foreign correspondent and editor, much of it in the Islamic world, and to complete a doctorate in sociology at Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

Already, I had begun my journey from agency journalist to author with publication in 2003 of Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in 21st-Century Iran, co-authored with Geneive Abdo. My second book, The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization (2009), presents a narrative account of the West's extensive borrowing from the medieval Arab and Muslim world.

Columbia University Press has just published my newest book, Islam Through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism. This social history of ideas, based on my recent doctoral dissertation, attempts to explain the fact that Western images of Islam have remained to this day almost unchanged since they were first crafted from wartime propaganda at the time of the First Crusade, one thousand years ago.

Lately, I have shifted gears a bit to explore early American intellectual history as a way of uncovering the roots of today's technological nation. America, and by extension much of the modern world, has lost touch with Classical notions of wisdom and mystery. This new book traces the trajectory of our national consciousness.

Product Description

Review

'A wonderful and important book which for the first time presents the Western debt to medieval Arabic learning in a clear, accessible manner. From the azimuth to the zenith, from algebra to the zero, so much of what the West takes for granted came to us from the Arab world ... A fascinating book' William Dalrymple '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' The Times 'In this clear and well-written book, Jonathan Lyons delves into all sorts of musty corners to show how Arabic science percolated into the Latin world in the middle ages and helped civilise a rude society' Guardian 'Sophisticated and thoughtful ... Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant' Wall Street Journal

Review

`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' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Ralph Blumenau TOP 500 REVIEWER on 12 Mar. 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The subtitle of this book is `How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization'; and in order to show this, Jonathan Lyons devotes the first 50 pages of a 200 page text principally to show how badly the West needed to be transformed.

When the First Crusade (about which we are given many unnecessary political details) began in 1096, the people of the West were rightly looked upon by the Arabs as coarse, brutish, and dirty; so ignorant that they could not even tell the time with any exactitude; their notion of justice involving trial by ordeal; their `medical' procedures which killed rather than cured; a clumsy numerical system they had inherited from the Romans; and with only scraps of knowledge of the achievements of antiquity having survived the barbarian invasions. In Europe, there was indeed some scholarship - we speak of a Carolingian and of an Ottonian Renaissance - but most learning was theological, and the official line of the Church was that any pragmatic attempt to understand the material world was suspect as being at best a distraction from seeking salvation and at worst a danger to it.

But there was also, among the violence, more peaceful interaction between the western invaders and the Arabs (and between the Arab invaders of Spain and the Christians there). Lyons describes how Arab scholarship of every kind had been promoted by the early Abbasid caliphs from the middle of the 8th to the first half of the 9th century (i.e. well before the First Crusade of 1096): by al-Mansur, Harun al-Rashid, and especially by al-Mamun, who had established the House of Wisdom as a great centre of learning and translations from Greek, Persian and Indian manuscripts.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Mr. L. G. Nelson on 4 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
'The House of Wisdom' shows how many of the fundamental principles of modern science were firstly collected by early Arab scholars from disparate sources: Greek, Sanscrit and Hindu and then further refined and developed in the Arab world before being disseminated to scholars in Western Europe. A must-read for anyone interested in the history of science and the international nature of scientific research and scholarship.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful By matilda special, Belgium on 1 Oct. 2010
Format: Paperback
This book is a delight to read and full of startling information about the many contributions of the medieval Arab world to the intellectual life of Europe. Baghdad, Damascus and Cordoba were very active centres of learning and philosophy, where new knowledge was created and written down and old knowledge translated and passed on. Aristotle and other ancient Greek scholars came to Europe via Arab translations made in the Middle East. Muslim Spain translated them from Arabic into Latin and proto Castilian and provided the stuff of thought ad enquiry at the budding universities of Paris, Oxford and Bologna. Baghdad and Damascus also developed and made available some Chinese inventions and Hindu learning to the West. They laid the foundations of modern mathematics, geography, astrology and the scientific method long before the protestant humanists. The art of paper-making, fireworks, the astrolabe, irrigation and drinking water, keeping time are some of the contributions of the Arabs. Arab learning stimulated the rise of European universities and made the Renaissance possible. Cordoba passed on the great legacy of Greece and the Arab world to Europe.
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By mab on 30 Jan. 2015
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book opened my eyes to how much hidden knowledge there is concerning the arabs contribution to science, philosophy, mathematics, optics, agriculture and so on, during a period in which Europe was going through the so called dark ages. Who would've thought this random book I came across was a gem!
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By Stella on 31 Oct. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an excellent book. It gives a comprehensive historical background and has been used for research.
It arrived on time and well packed
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By R. Hotchkis on 9 Mar. 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
An excellent overview of Arab science and history. It makes you want to find out more and do further reading.
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65 of 95 people found the following review helpful By R. E. Verhoef on 19 Aug. 2009
Format: Hardcover
Contrary to the other reviews, I found the book extremely poor. Lyons has no grasp of medieval Europe what so ever. He believes that T-O maps were actual attemps at drawing a map of the world. He ignores the actual theological basis of the maps. He also ignores many of the great European thinkers.

He tells us the West had no great scientist, but gives ample examples of the opposite. He takes many of his sources at face value. The speech of Uban II, for example, is not viewed as a rethorical speech of war, but as an actual account of Medieval life.

Moreover his account is largely about the rather obscure Adelard of Bath, a rather obscure monk whose influence is debatable. Historians doubt wether Adelard actually mastered Arabic. Lyons does not even mention this debate but assumes Adelard could read Arabic.

Most major books on the subject are not listed in the bibliography or the endnotes (how could he miss Hugh Kennedy's major book on the Arab conquest?). Much of his discourse on the Western European Dark Ages is based on works that are over 50 years old! He doesn't use any books that challenge his thoughts.

There are so many factual errors that it's impossible to name all of them. Just a few then.

On page 49 he qoutes from the Ecclesiastical history of the English people by Bede. The qoute relates, according to Lyons, to the battle of Poitiers, as Lyons calls it, but is known as the battle of Tours nowadays (as Lyons doesn't use any books on Western European history that postdate 1974 it's not suprising he has missed this name change). If so Bede must have been able to foresee the future. The battle took place in 732 (according to Lyons pre-1974 literature, 733 or 734 according to modern scholars), the book was written in 731.
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