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on 22 July 2017
Nice book
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on 25 August 2009
This wide-ranging and well researched book fills a real need, since there is so little understanding in the West of the achievements of Islamic civilisation, the extent of our indebtedness to it, and the historical length, the geographic breadth, and the intellectual depth of its accomplishments.

Unfortunately, the book is written in a breathless style more appropriate to a historical novel. There are lengthy descriptions of imagined scenes, and lengthy quotations from contemporary documents that serve no apparent purpose. There is no clear continuity either of time, or of topic. We are treated to a description of al-Biruni's entry to India, but are not told about his clear acceptance of the rotation of the Earth, or his balanced neutrality on the heliocentric question. We are at times left unclear about important questions of fact,and the line between imaginative reconstruction and factual reporting is hopelessly blurred. For example, did al-Mamun really dream about Aristotle, and if so how do we know? More importantly, was he really committed to the explicit view resulting from this dream that the path to revelation led through reason? Convoluted syntax stops us from finding out whether the author regards the Mutazilites as a faction within Kalam, or as opposed to it. These are not small matters, given the complex interactions between the God-centred philosophy of al-Ghazali, the independent thinking of the Mutazilites, and the sometimes excessive reverence of the falsafa for their Greek masters. al-Ghazali himself, by the way, gets only two brief mentions and nothing is said about the content of his doctrine, although this is central to at least one of the five possible perspectives on Islam discussed in the Introduction.

Ah, the Introduction! Enjoyably readable and delightfully lucid prose, clearly arranged, laying out complex intellectual issues in a way that makes them easy to follow. If only the whole book had been written in this style!
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on 26 January 2008
As someone from the East who studied at an American liberal arts college, and quite rightly enthused with Western philosophy, science, and the development of rational thought, it has slowly dawned on me that the story is ever more complex.

Great thinkers from various cultures have enriched us - passing ideas and approaches to succeeding generations. Above all, great civilisations and thinkers have always been open to the ideas of others. The inquiring mind is driven by thirst, unconstrained by restrictive ideology that proclaims superiority of one culture over another. Ultimately there is no such lasting superiority - human beings are human beings, and no one has a claim to ascendancy. We ought to celebrate the insights and breakthroughs of all individuals no matter their background, culture and beliefs - though we often don't.

It may sound like yet another politically correct statement, but in truth that debate is sterile. What matters most to the inquiring mind is the truth - the concept of social acceptance or rejection, or of political correctness, is, and ought to be, an irrelevance. Morgan's book is not a statement about political correctness - it is a search for our history.

Studying mathematics and physics, especially its history, it slowly dawned on me that the simple story of Greek thought followed by Age of the Enlightenment in Europe is a truncated story. The truncations are in the middle - perhaps written out for biased reasons, perhaps just forgotten. There are now in fact telling clues that the Crusades played a large part in bringing the West in touch with rational thought - with science, discovery, and the spirit of inquiry.

It is sad when we cheat our children by telling them incomplete stories of human history and development. Our history is a collective history. For me the awareness that the typical Western philosophic education has chosen to eschew telling the tale of great thinkers from other cultures is a slight disappointment - given that I have always taken the Western method to be all about openness and inquiry. But then no one is perfect - be it individual or culture.

Morgan tells the story impartially and with no hint of bias. The theme is the same - that not knowing our rich history, even if belonging to the various Islamic eras in different regions in different centuries is ultimately everyone's loss. From Al Khwarizmi to Avicenna, to Caliph Rashid and his libraries in Baghdad, to the first man to develop a working parachute, Morgan tells the story of an Islamic culture embraced with a love of knowledge, spirit of inquiry and openness. It is easy to see the links to the flowering of Western thought - after the West came in touch with the East.

It is an enrichening read, all the more so because the author has no axe to grind, but to tell the actual history, and to share it with all. To both sides of the current carefully cultivated divide between East and West, this is simultaneously a delightful and sobering read. Closing one's mind to others serves no purpose. We lose our history and who we were, and where we are headed.

Tiresome minds, both from the East and the West, obsessed with proclaiming the superiority of their own cultures, will find this book an irritant. But those who are curious, and with a genuine thirst for understanding, will find this a refreshing and invaluable read. It will fill in the missing links in intellectual history that leave confusion, blindness and a sense of dissatisfaction in the inquiry mind. I would suggest a read.
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on 22 May 2011
I have tried to get past the style of writing used in this book. Unfortunately one of my pet hates is history described in the present tense. It doesn't add perspective or immediacy. Hence, while the book may contain many wonderful facts and stories, I have been unable to penetrate it. If the purpose of this book is to enlighten and educate it has failed in this case. A shame as I feel this is a much neglected area of history.
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on 7 November 2008
I found this book by chance and wanted to give the writer a chance as well. It's a well written book with one major draw back, there is very little is the way of original sourcing. This was fustrating for me because I was interested in what the author had to say but at the same time a piece of work must show it sources. He flips the time line of the book from present day places to the past; It can be annoying. All in all, the book is worth reading and worth purchasing.

I would also like to leave you with the following quote from David King:

"Virtually all innovations in [astronomical] instrumentation in Europe up to ca. 1550 were either directly or indirectly Islamic in origin or had been conceived previously by some Muslim astronomer somewhere."
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on 25 October 2014
in past many years, even though the electronic media has expanded tremendously and access to information has been made much easy still many like me have unwittingly learned our history from hollywood, which we all agree doesn't always portray the true picture. In a period when Islam is feared and muslims alienated and vigrously categorised into moderate and fundamentalists, writing a book about islamic or muslim achievements and contributions towards modern science is a bold step.
The book is written by a non-muslim so it takes a lot of bias away plus the objection many readers could have made if islamic history was being praised by a muslim. its a well researched work and a few facts were so "lost" many muslims i have spoken to were not aware themselves. this book first came through my post box, curtesy of a friend and i read it few years ago. I bought this one for a friend as a gift. I have noticed that the popularity of the book has gone up since the prices has gone up as well. I gave it 5 star for the style, hard work and extensive details covered in such a short history book.
another book to read is 1001 inventions but that is more like an encyclopaedia.
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on 6 April 2010
A friend posted this book to me and i started reading it. I soon got caught in this interesting work. The book is divided in chapters narrating the achievements of Muslims in different professions and it's not in chronological order. There are some important dates given in that order at the start of the book which a reader can frequently refer to. The author starts with fictitious present day story in each chapter which could have stark resemblances to real ones. That he does to draw a backdrop to that particular place and then goes to its history. I liked this style. He has clearly stated in preface that the present day stories are fiction. I can understand that it must have involved a very extensive research work on history and it is quite possible that giving references of everything would not have been possible. There are no references in the book. It is certainly not written for academicians but for lay people like me. Those interested in original references would have to do their own research i am afraid, that could be the whole idea behind it, we'll have to ask the author.
This book is brave attempt by any author of 21st century to praise the achievements of the Muslims in the past many of which have a great bearing on the present day developments.
A pure history book covering this huge era of over thousand years would have many volumes so he has brushed upon salient features and developments.
This was one the most interesting books i have ever read which presented a rather dry topic in a very palatable way. I'll give it full marks. This is a must read and have book.
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on 18 March 2009
Personally I loved the way the author connected the past to the present - felt it was very clever and shed light on the profound accomplishments that Islamic civilization has made to the present day. I'm sure it is not a book for academics - but for mainstream audiences like myself it was pitched just at the right level! My only bugbear was the lack of pictures - I was continually googling for them whilst I read! The book however still gets 5 stars!!!
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on 16 December 2011
This book restitutes history and tells it as it should be told. It is comprehensive, written in an engaging manner story of muslim and middle-eastern people to the Science, Culture and Educational process as we know it. It is in my view a must read for all frustated muslims and middle-eastern people and the rest of the citizens of the world. It simply demonstrates that no one civilization, no one people can claim the property of Truth, Knowledge and modern day Civilization.
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on 13 August 2016
Excellent book illustrating the enduring legacy of Islamic science. This book makes one realise just how much hogwash is spread negatively about Islam by so-called experts in Western Media. I urge everyone to read this book in order for people to realise just how much we owe to the Islamic World for saving Greek and Persian science and philosophy, advancing it, and then amalgamating with the science and philosophy from Indo-China. Quite a super-culture resulted from this.
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