The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance
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The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  167 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A myth-shattering view of the medieval Islamic world's myriad scientific innovations, which preceded-and enabled-the European Renaissance.

The Arabic legacy of science and philosophy has long been hidden from the West. British-Iraqi physicist Jim Al-Khalili unveils that legacy to fascinating effect by returning to its roots in the hubs of Arab innovation that would advanc...more
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 31st 2011 by Penguin Press HC, The (first published 2011)
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Jim Al Khalili is a physicist whose family has deep roots in one of the culturally leading families of Iraq. His mother and first name are British and he was born and raised in Britain making him ideal to mediate between Islamic and European cultures in describing the wonders of this House. The founding of the "House of Wisdom" by Al Mamun in the 800s A.D. (C.E.) was necessitated by dream in which the instructions came right from Aristotle. However, Islamic culture did more than just conserve cl...more
A well written, insightfull and smart read.

Jim Al-Khalili is obviusly proud of his roots. And i like that.

Without being to missionary about it, he makes a good point in the fact that the Mideastern knowledge that started in Mesopotamian times and evolved all the way through our dark ages until the renaissance, was very influential on the occidents development of not only medicine, or architecture but also poetry, astronomie and art.

The questions of how and why the Islamic knowledge is suddenly r...more
Jenny Brown
I'm a long-time reader of books on the history of science. I'm fascinated with non-European cultures and have been reading heavily in that topic area. So this book should have been perfect for me, but instead it bored me.

Too often it read like a string of names and places with very little substantive information about the people being discussed. The author covers so many people that none of them are given much space save for a few mathematicians whose contributions are discussed so technically...more
I learned about evolution in high school biology class (no one thought to mention it before this time), and I certainly never learned about (Allah forbid) the Arabs/Muslims/Islam in history class. (And I went to New Trier!) I learned about the "Closing of the Western Mind" by reading Charles Freeman's book of the same name, the same man who writes about the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, antiquity, etc. (This book is well worth a read!) The closing of the western mind allowed the eastern mind to ope...more
Mary Craven
Excellent book filling in the gap of Western Civ. history. Answering how we left the Dark Ages and entered the Renaissance with shared knowledge, not our own invention. A strong case for world peace, understanding and tolerance.
While chemistry, algebra, medicine and so much more are written about, my favorite quote is "I shall mention in passing just one example of a gift from the Arabs that I for one am rather grateful: coffee - especially as it was originally banned in Europe as a 'Muslim drin...more
محمد الهاشمي
جميل جدا لولا بعض السرد المطول في إجزاء منه. كل عربي بحاجة لمعرفة تاريخ أمته من منظور الغرب الذي يدين للعرب بالفضل، ليس فقط من منظور الجملة التي يرددها كثيرون ولا يعرفون شيئا عن تفاصيلها "الغرب تعلم من حضارة المسلمين"

تعلم ماذا؟
هل يمكنك ذكر أسماء من تعلموا منهم من علمائنا؟
كم اختراعا عربيا أو اسلاميا تعرف عنه؟
ما هي النظريات والعلوم الغربية التي استندت إلى اكتشافات المسلمين؟
Al-Khalili goes to great lengths in The House of Wisdom to document and celebrate every historical Arabic, Persian, or more generally, any Islamic effort to sustain, promote and advance scientific, mathematical, or astronomical discovery. While reading this book, it came across to me that his main objective was to prove that the Arab world had something to offer in these fields of study, too.

I would have liked to have read more detail about the individual lives of the many Arabs and Persians (an...more
I wanted to be more engaged than I was. The House of Wisdom provided a great introduction to a sizable collection of scientists from the Muslim world who curated and developed the scientific knowledge of ancient Persians, Greeks and Indians during the Islamic Golden Age of the Abbasids in Baghdad. There was at times too much detail explaining the progression of mathematical theories from ancient times, but this detail was probably deemed necessary to convince those who are unwilling to recognize...more
Mar 28, 2014 Sandy marked it as other-adult-books
Shelves: non-fiction
Non-fiction account of important people and places in the Arabic speaking world that helped further our collective knowledge and sciences during the Dark Ages, leading into the Renaissance. Includes things like great translation works that spread Greek philosphers to wider people, advances in medicine and astronomy specifically. Each "scientist" was of varying origins, but all published primarily in Arabic during the roughly 1000 years the book covers. Part of the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf colle...more
The title offers a very oversimplified version of the thesis (better marketing, I'd presume; a controversial title attracts a lot more attention than something honest), so that's nice to have. As you may have guessed, this book is about how the Arab/Muslim groups (really Arabic-speaking, something Al-Khalili explains early on; a number of the luminaries in this book had little to no Arab blood) did a lot more for science and the Age of Enlightenment than simply pass on some translated Greek text...more
Robert Wilson
It is truly amazing how many scientific advances came from the Arab world and yet are little is known about it in the west. al-Khalili's book is a good introduction to the history of Arab science during its golden age. It's also objective. In several cases, al-Khalili actually takes credit for some advances away from the Arab world, for example, the invention of the zero.
The House of Wisdom covers a topic that anyone interested in the development of math and science over history and the origins of great scientific ideas should be thrilled to read; given the Euro-centric focus of many U.S. readers and writers in this respect, a glimpse into the Islamic world of science history is a treat. I am delighted to have read about the many early Islamic scientists and mathematicians grappling with the problems of day while Europe languished in dark ages. Other reviewers,...more
Yes indeed, I did just simultaneously read two books with identical titles (but different subtitles for those of you with precision-hungry minds). Lyons, a western journalist now living in America, spent two decades in the Muslim world, and is primarily interested in his book on how the great flowering of Arabic science and philosophy from the 8th to the 15th centuries was transmitted to the West. In contrast, Al-Khalili, a British physicist of Iraqui/Persian descent is primarily interested in t...more

The world of medieval Islamic scholarship is one little known or cared about in the west. This book set out to remedy this. Islamist scholars first translated Greek books into Arabic and then for several centuries surpassed the ancients in wisdom and discovery which gave the west the impetus for the Renaissance. A decline in these interests followed from which Islam is only beginning to recover. Several chapters require some basic math and science skill but this should not keep you from reading...more
Daniel Kukwa
A fascinating condensed summary of what made the golden age of Islamic scholarship & science so amazing. Unfortunately, I don't think that the book adequately services its second stated intention: explaining why the Islamic renaissance ended, and why it fell so far behind European civilization. It receives a cursory chapter at the end, which feels like a major anti-climax compared to the enthusiasm of the rest of the book. Enjoyable, but not quite satisfying.
Really interesting book on the contributions made by Arabic scientists, many of which are either unknown or under appreciated in the west. From the invention of algebra (an Arabic word al-jebr); advances in medicine, astronomy, engineering, economics. It really makes the point that Arabic scientists made important and revolutionary contributions to science as well as providing links between the Ancient Greek world and the Renaissance in Europe.
Apr 14, 2013 Anupa added it
It was interesting, I enjoyed reading about how everything we have now was influenced by someone. It took many generations and different cultures to bring about the inventions we have today.
Kathy Anne
Wow this book is amazing,this is such a mysterios period in humanities history but this author sheds a lot of light on some of the mystery of losing all of this knowledge...5*
Dec 03, 2012 ACRL added it
Shelves: motw
Read by ACRL Member of the Week Yasmeen Shorish. Learn more about Yasmeen on the ACRL Insider blog.
Anderson County Library
Excellent history of the spread of Islam and Arabic contributions to science, astronomy and medicine.
Highly readable and interesting primer on the history of science from a particular period.
It's kind of like reading a list. But still, there's a ton of stuff in there I never knew.
Kylie Kelly
Mar 07, 2012 Kylie Kelly marked it as to-read
Has a really amazing description on his site, it's something i really want to read.
Re-reading this fabulous book until something new comes along
More like 4.5, I think. Review coming.
Matthew Jackson
Surprisingly yawn worthy.
Very readable.
Joshua Spencer
Joshua Spencer marked it as to-read
Aug 28, 2014
Carla Gomes
Carla Gomes marked it as to-read
Aug 23, 2014
Skeet marked it as to-read
Aug 23, 2014
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Jim Al-Khalili(born Jameel Sadik Al-Khalili) is an Iraqi-born British theoretical physicist, author and science communicator. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey. He has hosted several BBC productions about science and is a frequent commentator about science in other British media venues.

(taken and modified from Wikipedia...more
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“It is a fact of life that oversimplified accounts of the development of science are often necessary in its teaching. Most scientific progress is a messy, complex and slow process; only with the hindsight of an overall understanding of a phenomenon can a story be told pedagogically rather than chronologically. This necessitates the distilling of certain events and personalities from the melee: those who are deemed to have made the most important contributions. It is inevitable therefore that the many smaller or less important advances scattered randomly across hundreds of years of scientific history tend to be swept up like autumn leaves into neat piles, on top of which sit larger-than-life personalities credited with taking a discipline forward in a single jump. Sometimes this is perfectly valid, and one cannot deny the genius of an Aristotle, a Newton, a Darwin or an Einstein. But it often leaves behind forgotten geniuses and unsung heroes.” 0 likes
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