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on 16 January 2008
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. Because of the episodic nature and lack of background information, the general reader will struggle to set many of the people and incidents referred to into a known context. The expert in the period (which I'm not - just a retired history teacher) may find it all a bit shallow and obvious.
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on 14 October 2016
I came to this book without knowing anything about Al-Andalus, so the primary joy of this book was an introduction to a new time and place. But there are many secondary joys too. Cordoba was that rare political entity, a tolerant and advanced culture dedicated to knowledge empirical and spiritual. A period of great art too, surely one of the great cultural achievements of humanity to date. My only gripe was that I found Menocal's prose to be hard to read, her grammar tends towards long sentences full of sub-clauses and run-ons. It became quite boring to read and reread bits until I worked it out. Still, that's probably more my problem than hers!
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on 21 April 2015
This is surprisingly relevant to today. It describes how the three religions coexisted in medieval Andalucía. What's more it describes a period under the Umayyad caliphate when science, art and engineering flourished under Islam. The lessons are still there to be seen and heard if you visit the exhibition about the three religions in the Torre de Calahorra in Córdoba. Sadly the book also chronicles how some of the achievements were lost as a result of the Berber wars. Perhaps nothing lasts for ever.
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on 30 July 2013
If only more people realised the importance of the Golden Age between 700AD and the fourteenth century. I thank Maria Rosa Menocal for her explicit research. Anyone who seeks an answer to the 'blindness' of our age in relation to our Abrahamic Faiths should read and study the contents of this excellent book. I have already given several copies to my friends and will continue to do so!
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on 21 November 2012
Great book. Full of unexpected information. The downfall of the Moors in Spain was not entirely the work of the Catholic monarchs but from within and without by other Moorish groups, principally Al Mansur bringing the Berbers in - I didn't know that! Not as heavy going as I expected, have now to catch up on other parts of Spanish history.
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on 17 May 2016
A wonderful book in content and style. It demolishes the argument that Islam is in inherit conflict with Jews or Christians. It also documents how glorious Islamic civilisation was during the Middle Ages and how its scholars helped to rescue Europe from barbarism to achieve Enlightenment.
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on 9 June 2014
An extraordinary book in every way: well written, engaging, lucid and informative about times and events not generally familiar to a 21st-century reader. We are in debt to Professor Menocal for giving us such a book. I hope she will write more.
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on 12 May 2008
I have to say, negative reviews notwithstanding, that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I too had just returned from Andalusia and wanted to read more about the area and it's history. I did several searches on Amazon using various key-words and every time this book came up. I must admit I was a bit put off by the reviews but the table of contents looked intriguing (good move there Amazon!) and so I thought I'd take a chance. After all a book reveiew is only 1 person's opinion.

Well I'm glad I did now. Yes, sure the reviews have got a point. It is a bit wishy-washy in parts and the author does wear a huge pair of rose-tinted glasses but as long as you know that, this is still a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This book doesn't set out to be a straight forward history of al-Andalus but more of a cultural history. It was interesting to read about the Jewish input to the 'Andalusian Enlightenment' as much as the Christian or Moorish. Something I didn't know much about.

My advice would be to read this book, but not in isolation. Perhaps read it concurrently with a good history of Moorish Spain like the one by Richard Fletcher. Read the reviews on Amazon and bear them in mind though all reviews should be taken with a pinch of salt (except this one of course!). It has to be said that the reading list is a bit poor but it's easy enough to find related books on Amazon.
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on 18 May 2015
Perhaps the best book I have read on the subject. Erudite, insightful and empathetic. Highly recommended.
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on 25 November 2014
Very poetic, historically insightful. Definitely worth reading.
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