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The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization Hardcover – 2 Feb 2009

3.9 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC (2 Feb. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0747594007
  • ISBN-13: 978-0747594000
  • Product Dimensions: 16.6 x 2.6 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 449,426 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

'Lyons gives us a new and important understanding of our historical and cultural relation to Islam and the Arab world ... this is a well-crafted, powerful account which akss us to re-examine our assumptions about East and West, a task never so neccessary as now' -- The Scotsman

'Lyons vividly conveys the excitement young European Scholars travelling east must have felt as they glimpsed a dazzling new world of learning'
-- New Scientist

'The House Of Wisdom lays out for us the fascinating decades before the forgetting began' -- Evening Standard

`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' -- Ziauddin Sardar, The Times

`Lyons tells many of these stories well; this is a work of popular history, not of original research, but he has read widely in the English-language literature, and has a good journalist's eye for detail.' -- Noel Malcolm, Sunday Telegraph

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'

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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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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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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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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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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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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