Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Book Review: The House of Wisdom

The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance
Jim Al-Khalili
Science, history

This is a really informative book. Anyone who knows much about the history of science knows that many, many classical Greek texts were lost during the post-Roman Dark Ages, and were rediscovered because they'd been preserved by Arabic scholars. Jim Al-Khalili documents that process, but he also makes a great case for the contributions of the Arabic scholars themselves.

It's not perfect. Al-Khalili sometimes seems a bit defensive. At other times tries too hard to be scrupulously neutral. It's also fair to say that he's presenting the good-parts version of Arabic scholarship--candlelit truth, you might say. All in all, though, I thought he did a great job of rescuing the medieval scholars of Baghdad and Andalusia from unwarranted obscurity, and of showing that their contributions to European science were both vital and under-appreciated.

Coincidentally, this is one of Bruce Watson's sources for Light, the last book I read. The two make an interesting contrast. Al-Khalili's book isn't as large in scope, and it's not poetically written. (Not that the writing is bad; it's generally fine, just not distinguished.) But I think that I learned more from The House of Wisdom.

No comments:

Post a Comment