A chewy study of the preservation and transportation of classical Greek thought. See Jonathan Lyons’ The House of Wisdom...

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ALADDIN’S LAMP

HOW GREEK SCIENCE CAME TO EUROPE THROUGH THE ISLAMIC WORLD

Freely (Storm on Horseback: The Seljuk Warriors of Turkey, 2008, etc.) profiles the various caliphates that fostered scholarship and scientific inquiry during Europe’s Dark Ages.

As the eighth century drew to a close, the author writes, Baghdad became a beacon illuminating classical antiquity. The Abbasid caliphate, which had held sway there for several centuries, reached its peaking during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (786–809), when Baghdad’s scholars plumbed the known world for long lost books and documents, including many from the ancient library at Alexandria. In Baghdad’s library, known as the House of Wisdom, Greek texts were painstakingly translated into Arabic. But Islamic scholars did more than just translate, the author notes; they critiqued Greek thinkers from Archimedes and Aristotle to Zeno. They questioned ideas on the nature of reality, corrected astronomical observations and probed medical tracts and mathematical theorems. In once instance, three wards of a Baghdad caliph marched a measured distance from north to south in the desert until the elevation of Polaris had changed by exactly a single degree; multiplying by 360, they arrived at a circumference of the earth only 92 miles short of what today’s science confirms. In time, Cairo and Damascus succeeded Baghdad as centers of Islamic study, flourishing from the tenth into the 14th centuries under the Fatimids and other dynasties. Umayyad caliphs ruled the region of southern Spain known to Arabs as Al-Andalus, which offered another tolerant, enlightened bastion for scholars. As Christians came there to study, Greek texts that had once flowed into Arabic were poured into Latin, and the early flame of the European Renaissance flickered. Freely extensively documents Islamic works that gave us words like algebra and algorithm and dusted off the even more ancient Hindu numerals now universally employed.

A chewy study of the preservation and transportation of classical Greek thought. See Jonathan Lyons’ The House of Wisdom (2009) for a more accessible account of the Arab influence on Western civilization.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-26534-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2009

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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