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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and informative, 28 Jun 2013
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This review is from: Pathfinders: The Golden Age of Arabic Science (Kindle Edition)
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 Greco-Roman knowledge during the Western "dark ages", the Arabic-speaking world developed and contributed significantly to that knowledge, and he largely succeeds in this.
I only have two criticisms: firstly, al-Khalili steers clear of philosophical and theological discussions, yet the nature of science at the time ("natural philosophy", in the terminology of the Western inheritors of the Arabic knowledge) was such that it was seen as a part of the same investigation; consequentially I would have liked more information about the general worldview of the sciento-philosophers he covers.
Secondly, in his eagerness to show how the Arabic-speaking world made genuine contributions (coupled with, I'd speculate, a slightly Kuhnian view of how science progresses), he sometimes seems a little over-keen to find each person's Great Contribution. Especially in the section on the mathematician al-Khwarizmi, he seems to be casting around rather desperately to locate the Single Great Thing that al-Khwarizmi did, yet unnecessarily so: it's clear that the guy massively progressed maths in general, and if that was by a little bit here and a little bit there, then that's fine by me. No need to locate his Nobel Prize-equivalent discovery.
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