Kirkus Reviews QR Code
THE HOUSE OF WISDOM by Jonathan Lyons


How The Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

by Jonathan Lyons

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59691-459-9
Publisher: Bloomsbury

Former Reuters editor and foreign correspondent Lyons fashions an accessible study about early Western acquisition of scientific knowledge from the Arab world.

Wading through centuries of anti-Muslim propaganda, Lyons traces how the brilliance of Arab knowledge, brought back by visiting scholars from intellectual centers like Baghdad, Antioch and Cordoba, transformed Western notions of science and philosophy. The Western “recovery” of classical learning, as championed later in the Renaissance, was actually first transmitted by these early Arab giants of learning, many of whom emerged from the Baghdad think tank, translation bureau and book repository called the House of Wisdom (Bayt al-Hikma), built by Caliph al-Mansur in the eighth century. The Baghdad court linked the triumphs of classical wisdom—especially that of the Greeks—with Persian, Hindu and other traditions, spurring the work of significant Arab thinkers such as al-Khwarizmi, who developed star tables, algebra and the astrolabe; al-Idrisi, who accepted a royal commission by Roger II of once-Muslim Sicily to construct the first comprehensive world’s map, The Book of Roger; Avicenna, a Persian philosopher and physician who was an authority on medicine; and Averroes, the Muslim philosopher whose commentaries on Aristotle were a major contribution to Western thought. Lyons capably delineates the fascinating journey of this knowledge to the West, highlighting a few key figures, including Adelard of Bath, whose years spent in Antioch paid off grandly in bringing forth his translations of Euclid and al-Khwarizmi; and Michael Scot, science adviser and court astrologer to Frederick II, who translated Avicenna and Averroes. Lyons cleverly—though too briefly—ties these early theories to the work of Thomas Aquinas and Copernicus and the subsequent “invention of the West.”

Pertinent study that should aid in a better understanding between East and West.