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The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain Paperback – 3 Jul 2003

4.1 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 344 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown & Company; Reprint edition (3 July 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316168718
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316168717
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 2.5 x 14 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 184,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Splendid.... An affecting portrait of a lost Iberian world.... The beauty of Menocal's work lies in her craftsmanship and patience, in her eye for the illuminating anecdote, for the stray life that catches a time and its wonder."

"A seductively written history.... Menocal displays a lavish sense of place that should be the envy of many novelists."

"It is no exaggeration to say that what we presumptuously call Western' culture is owed in large measure to the Andalusian enlightenment.... This book partly restores to us a world we have lost."

"Engaging and accessible.... This study of medieval Spain shows that a powerful Islamic society and its committed Christian opponents were once capable of contending in arms for mastery of a rich territory, without losing their sense of mutual respect.... It is a valuable contribution."

Book Description

* How Muslims, Jews and Christians created a culture of tolerance in medieval Spain.

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4.1 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
If you have any interest at all in the many interactions between Christianity, Islam and Judaism, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I approached it as a relatively uninformed layman with an interest in Islamic art, music of the middle ages and the romance languages, who had found himself more moved than he had expected by visits to Andalusia. I came away from it with a much greater understanding of the history of Al Andalus and the extraordinary ways in which the faiths had interacted during this crucial stage in the development of our world. I won't attempt to summarise it - simply to say that it is beautifully written, by a writer with the deepest insights into her subject, and that is has changed quite significantly how I view a whole range of issues of faith, culture, art, music and language. The only possible criticism, in my view, is a degree of repetition as she views the subject through the prism of different individuals: it's still worth sticking with it to the very last page.
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Format: Paperback
Writing history raises an inevitable challenge: relate events as they were or portray selected elements to emphasize a theme. The former method is often ponderous, the latter often misleading. Menocal has opted for the second option. In her survey of Medieval Spain, she gives us an entertaining and informative look at expressions of the intellectual elite over seven centuries of Muslim rule.
Menocal's approach aims to restore Spanish Islam's blemished reputation. Muslim Spain has endured a scathing censure imposed by "victorious" Christian Europe. In the Christian view, the Reconquista of Spain freed a population from a Muslim yoke. The European invasion of the Western Hemisphere carried that myth across the Atlantic while strengthening the crusading attitude of the conquistadores. Menocal uses romantic poetry, the advancement of selected scholars to high posts under the caliphate, and the literacy of the Muslim and Jewish communities as evidence of high, positive interaction. Even the Christians, normally disdainful of literacy, science and philosophy, joined the chorus of common interests.
Weaving her tale around the Cordovan Umayyad caliphs founded by exiled prince Abn al-Rahmad, she traces the building programs, internal disputes among the Islamic schisms arising along the Mediterranean, and the challenges posed by intruders from the north. For Menocal, the binding force across Islamic Spain was language. Arabic became a lingua franca with the power to transcend religious dogma and jurisdictional disputes. Jews and Christians alike became fluent in this imposed language due to its expressive power. Arabic was also used in the Eastern Mediterranean to recover and spread lost texts of the Greek scholars.
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By A Customer on 12 Mar. 2004
Format: Paperback
I'm not a scholar of this period of history, i just love Andalusia - so for me this book was a really informative introduction to the history of this region, written in a way that is easy enjoy as a non-academic.
I loved the characters - she really brings them to life, and the history of some of the great buildings (like the mosque of Cordoba & the Alhambra) was fascinating. Also the way in which this area of Spain was so influential in the re-discovery of ancient philosophy, maths, astronomy & more was a revelation to me.
I read this book whilst in Granada and it really brought the history of the place to life.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I got this first on kindle and then could not put the 'book' down, and now have a pb. On one side it is full of history - presented not as a conventional history, but a series of snippets which form a picture of nearly 500 years of the history of Analucia. The Muslim influence in Spain is as profound as the Roman occupation on English. Apart from the example which gives the book its title, for living and working in harmony, it also acknowledges the debt Europe has to pre-12thc. Spain, and Andalucia in particular.What comes through is the 'feel' of a place, once ruled by an intelligent and open hearted Muslim dynasty - too open for some as later events showed. People do not learn from history: to invite a more aggressively militant group in to support the fight against an aggressive neighbour always carries the potential risk that the 'aid' may take over. The book ends with the reminder that conflicts involving those who lived once together, has not ended. A lovely serious in intent, but very accessible look at something that was much more than just a historical event.
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Format: Paperback
If you're looking for a history of culture and civilisation in Spain 711-1492, the period when Spain was partly or mostly under Islamic rule, this isn't it. Still less does it give an overall political framework. It's not meant to.
Professor Menocal has set herself the task of enlightening us about the cultural diversity, and artistic, architectural and intellectual excellence of the era, based as it was on a remarkable level of religious tolerance. Her regret at the loss of this religious toleration is the underlying point of the book. She writes as if expecting this picture of Islamic Spain to come as a revelation to her readers, which surely underestimates the historical awareness of the sort of person who is likely to pick up the book or click on it on this website.
She takes an episodic approach, analysing selected but mostly unlinked people and incidents which provide evidence either for her evocation of the period, or for her explanation of its decline in the face of rising religious intolerance. I was surprised that she did not make more of the effect of the Crusades in the latter context - stirring up religious militancy on all sides.
There's no doubt that she effectively expresses her passion for her theme, and her examples do initially make the point about this era in Spanish history. The problem is that the approach produces a degree of incoherence which makes the book increasingly woolly as it goes on and creates a need for her to keep repeating the basic message in order to remind us of it.
It's a nice idea - to get away from the traditional narrative of the history of the country and the standard recitation of the culture, but it ends up being rather unsatisfying.
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