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The Polymath (Modern Arabic Literature) [Paperback]

Bensalem Himmich

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Book Description

30 April 2008 Modern Arabic Literature
With elusive simplicity and stylistic fluency this award-winning historical novel unravels the life of Arab philosopher Ibn Khaldun, reconstructing the personal and intellectual universe of a fourteenth-century genius. The novel’s dominant concern—the relationship between intellectuals and political power—addresses our times through the transparent veil of history.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: The American University in Cairo Press (30 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9774162528
  • ISBN-13: 978-9774162527
  • Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 12.2 x 19.3 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,105,185 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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''The elusive simplicity and fluency of style manage to entertain and instruct at once. We learn as we read about Ibn Khaldun: his insights into history and historiography, his views of the rise and fall of civilizations, the principles of his sociological thinking, along with intimate aspects of his life, including his tragic losses and his attitude toward women. We also learn of his response to the major crisis of his time, the Tatar invasion of the Mashriq. In short, Ibn Khaldun, the distant and formidable figure, is humanized -- thanks to this novel.'' -- Naguib Mahfouz Medal Award Committee --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

About the Author

Bensalem Himmich is the vice-president of hte Moroccan and Arab World Writers' Union and is professor of philosophy at Mohamed V University in Rabat. He is the author of The Theocrat (AUC Press paperback edition, 2009).

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Human Side of Ibn Khaldun 27 Mar 2012
By Robert Lebling - Published on
AUC Press is a valuable gateway through which readers can explore modern Arabic literature in high-quality translations.

This historical novel is an excellent example. It covers the last two decades of the life of Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406 C.E.), the great Tunisian-born historian and philosopher of history. He is dubbed a polymath, an expert in many disciplines. Ibn Khaldun was trained as an Islamic scholar but his lifelong fascination was with history and with the social sciences that surround it. He was a pioneer in sociology, cultural anthropology and economics.

Himmich's novel begins in Cairo, after Ibn Khaldun has written his great history, and tragically lost his wife and children when their ship went down off the coast of Alexandria. The story covers three phases that steadily build in intensity:

(1) Seven nights spent dictating to his amanuensis, recording his thoughts - and second thoughts - on tyrants, governments, "group solidarity" (one of the greatest evils, he says) and political intrigue;

(2) An unexpected second chance to build a family, when the 60-year-old falls in love, marries again and fathers a child, seeking to balance his new personal life with precarious public service as a religious judge under the dangerous Mamluk sultan Barquq; and

(3) His role with the next sultan, Barquq's 13-year-old son Faraj, in defending Damascus against the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane - and helping to negotiate that city's surrender.

Throughout the novel, we see another side of the great historian: his human frailty in a dizzying maelstrom of political duplicity and violence. Ibn Khaldun, a scholar who disdains tyranny and abuse of power, nevertheless quails before the mighty and heaps sickening flattery upon the mercurial sultans - and later upon all-powerful Tamerlane. Ibn Khaldun finds his own behavior disgusting, but he justifies it as the only way to stay alive, and thereby protect his wife and baby daughter. Sadly, even the stratagems of a polymath sometimes come to naught.
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