For centuries following the fall of Rome, Western Europe was backward and benighted, locked into the Dark Ages and barely able to tell the time of day. Arab culture, however, was thriving, and had become a powerhouse of intellectual exploration and discussion that dazzled the likes of British adventurer Adelard of Bath. The Arabs could measure the earth's circumference (a feat not matched in the West for eight hundred years); they discovered algebra; were adept at astronomy and navigation, developed the astrolabe, translated all the Greek scientific and philosophical texts including, importantly, those of Aristotle. Without them, and the knowledge that travelers like Adelard brought back to the West, Europe would have been a very different place over the last millennium. Jonathan Lyons restores credit to the Arab thinkers of the past in this riveting history of science - from its earliest and most thrilling days.
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.