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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars excellent but in need of a little light editing
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...
Published on 20 Dec 2010 by R. G. Oliver

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21 of 35 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Historical Interest
Some recent television documentaries have implied that without Arabic/Islamic science Europe would not have emerged from the dark ages. This contrasts with Jacob Bronowski's statement (Ascent of Man) "...Alhazen, who was the one really original scientific mind that Arab culture produced." The view presented by the present author is more balanced than, perhaps, either of...
Published on 21 Oct 2010 by Dr. Philip A. Shand


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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
By 
R. G. Oliver (St Albans, Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
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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!

Enjoy!
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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 "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
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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. Our word `alchemy' is from the Arabic `al-kimiya', `the art of transmutation'; and there are many other words in everyday use, such as alkali and algorithm, that have an Arabic origin.

Most of the other scholars whose work al-Khalili describes were quite new to me. There is something of the general history of the period in this book; but for the most part it focuses on cosmology, arithmetic, algebra, physics, philosophy and medicine in separate chapters, and the contribution of the Arabian scholars. We must remember that this is only two centuries after the life of The Prophet and the social system that his vision inaugurated. So the progress made in learning was considerable and rapid. Of course, the Islamic scholars were also busy translating Greek and Roman texts, but this book puts into perspective the derivative work with the original.

This is a fascinating book, full of scholarship and original historical material, and absolutely no symbolic mathematics to deter the reader. It puts the ancient scholars of Baghdad and their contribution to our heritage into a very human context, though perhaps we could have done with less personal material. There are several pages of Notes, a Glossary of scientists, and an Index at the end. This would make an excellent complement to the books by Menocal and that on the history of western ideas by Richard Tarnas.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, U.K.; and The World as Spirit published by Fairhill Publishing, Whitland, West Wales, 2011.

The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain
The Passion Of The Western Mind: Understanding the Ideas That Have Shaped Our World View
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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview, 26 Aug 2012
By 
J. Elmes (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Arab history, 13 April 2013
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R. Hotchkis "rdnh" (Channel Islands) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating book, 27 May 2014
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Reading this book has given me a valuable insight into the scholarship and genius of the mediaeval Arab scientists. I also gained an appreciation of the enormous task they set themselves in seeking out and preserving the medical and philosophical works of ancient Greece. Well worth reading.
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5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 6 Nov 2013
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mediterranean interactions, 4 Nov 2013
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Marigonda Maria Vitt (Rome, Italy) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
I have always been interested in the great age of Arabian science, philosophy, literature, etc. and on how indebted we Europeans are to them. Also in the interaction with Persian and Indian sources. Pathfinders is a very entertaining, easy to read answer.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A plethora of pathfinders, 25 Sep 2013
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P. J. Dunn "Peter Dunn" (Warwickshire) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
I came across this because it was shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Writing and it was deservedly so shortlisted. His explanation of the origin of the word algebra was just one of a vast range of historical tales that I had not previously encountered. In a relatively short book he catalogues a vast array of early Arabic scientists and also comes up with some convincing theories as to why they arose when they did, and how that contrasts with the European renaissance, and the modern day. The book's only tiny flaw is that the cast list of early Arabic scientists is so huge that one can't quite keep them all in the memory - but the author realises that himself and the book concludes with an excellent appendix of mini biogs of each and every one of his "Pathfinders".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Repositioning of History of Scientific Development, 19 Aug 2013
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Paperback)
Clear and easy to follow rendition of a complex and potentially highly charged period of history/cultural development in a scientific context.
Should be on every undergraduate science student's 1st Year reading list.
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Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science
Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science by Jim Al-Khalili (Paperback - 26 Jan 2012)
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