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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

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  582 Ratings  ·  78 Reviews
Will be shipped from US. Brand new copy.
Hardcover, 336 pages
Published March 31st 2011 by Penguin Press (first published September 30th 2010)
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Tariq Yes. Just started reading the book today, haven't found any difference between these two books except the title.

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May 20, 2011 Natalie rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 09, 2013 Richard rated it really liked it
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
Jenny Brown
Aug 10, 2011 Jenny Brown rated it it was ok
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
Mary Craven
Feb 25, 2014 Mary Craven rated it it was amazing
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
Richard Healy
Jun 03, 2011 Richard Healy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting so far.

I was one of those guilty of the simplistic reading of history that says Greek and Latin thought was absorbed into the Islamic Caliphate, translated, preserved and ultimately re-entered European thought kick-starting the enlightenment and the age of reason, without appreciating all the novel and new contributions that the arabic authors added to this pantheon of wisdom and learning.

Gradually in the last few years I've become increasingly aware of the arabic influence on, in
Jan 07, 2011 Johanna rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Jim Al-Khalili takes you on a journey to explore the golden age of Arabic science which occured during Europes' dark ages. It is commonly thought (and this is the view I had during history class in school) that the great scientists were the Greeks, and the Renessaince masters.

In 'Pathfinders' you learn about some of the greatest masters and polymaths of the Arab world at the time.. all intertwined with historical tellings of the khalifs, mongols and others. In reading 'Pathfinders' you will lear
Sep 15, 2014 Chris rated it did not like it
There are books that are badly written. There are books that are factually incorrect. There are books whose intellectual underpinnings are a mess. Then, there are books that are all of the above. The House of Wisdom is supposed to show how the Arabic world saved all the ancient knowledge of the world, expanded upon it, and reintroduced it into the west when the time was right. Instead, House of Wisdom is a poorly written and horribly argued car crash pushed in the reader's face with a maximum of ...more
May 08, 2016 Raven rated it really liked it
This book was excellent, beginning with the massive translation effort of known texts from Greek and Roman scientists into Arabic during the Abbāsid Caliphate and the subsequent pursuit of and development of chemistry, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics by Arabic-literate peoples (al-Khalili characterizes the science being done by its common language of communication, which at that time was Arabic rather than Latin or English -- the scientists he highlights were Muslim, Jewish, Christian, and ...more
Sarah Dorra
May 10, 2012 Sarah Dorra rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
(This review is originally published at

At school, one only gets to learn what he is taught. In the case of students in the Arab World, we only got to learn about Western scientists like Galileo and Einstein. It would be unfair though to claim that our curriculums left us entirely ignorant of our Arab and Muslim scientists because their names are still very familiar. Though their achievements may not. Feeling truly ashamed, I picked up Jim Al-Khalili's Pathfinders: The Golden A
Jun 10, 2011 Einschrein rated it it was amazing
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
Vuk Trifkovic
Mar 17, 2012 Vuk Trifkovic rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Very poor. Perhaps I expected something incisive and insightful, but it's a typically confused "sci pop" or rather "history of ideas light" book. In fact, I think it might have been an offshoot of a TV series.

So, it's not like the author is not an expert. It's just that he does not know what is he writing and for whom. The history bit is way too light, the history of ideas bit slides into taxonomy too quickly ("and this is what they did in chemistry, and this is what they did in algebra") and th
Jun 09, 2011 Paul rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable read, very informative and a subject that I now realise I knew very little about. Enjoyed the quotes from medieval scientists extolling the benefits of scientific analysis over blind faith - 1000 years later and this argument needs brought to the fore again sadly, in all parts of the world. Also fascinated to discover the derivation of many scientific and mathematical words is so obviously Arabic once someone points it out (algorithm, algebra, alkali, etc).
Jul 09, 2011 David rated it it was amazing
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.
محمد الهاشمي
Mar 19, 2013 محمد الهاشمي rated it really liked it
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؟
Fahed Al Kerdi
I was surprised that this book is the same of the house of wisdom, they should mentioned this on the cover, I read the book and reviewed it in the page of the house of wisdom.
Frank Terry
Sep 04, 2014 Frank Terry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition was sure an experience reading this book. I first heard of it last year, back sometime around July 2013. My local library got a grant to acquire some different books on Arabic and Islamic culture to promote people across America to learn more about Islam and Arabic culture in general.

I've always really, really wanted to study Islam, as I've mentioned before in other reviews, because more or less up to this year, I didn't know a thing about it.

This book was one that my library got and
Oct 24, 2011 Kent rated it it was ok
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
Debra Leigh Scott
Jim Al-Khalili has provided us with a wonderful book that discusses something that most readers from Western cultures do not know: that it was the Islamic Empire which saved the learning of Western antiquity for the West. This book is essential reading for anyone interested in medieval studies, international scholarship, in the European Renaissance. A portion of my review at the New York Journal of Books said, "The Islamic Golden Age is traditionally dated from the middle of the 8th century to t ...more
Abdullah Diab
Jun 23, 2015 Abdullah Diab rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have seen the documentary (Science and Islam - BBC) that Jim has done before, and I wanted to get a better grasp on my history, so I bought the book.

It's a very good book, with many references to many names, as an Arab I was taught many of those names, but like Jim says in the last chapter, we heard only of those names in history lessons, which really tended to be so boring back in my days, I assume they're more boring now. Only few science teachers ever mentioned these great names in their cl
Jul 07, 2015 Saba rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just finished this book. And to write a review for it, I just checked other reviews so as to choose good words to describe this luminous work of Al-Khalili. But then closed the page for the reason that whatever mediocre words I'm going to choose, it will be with a sincere heart anyway. So back to the motto! It's a well written and insightful book. Although some of its parts, like where he goes into details about latitudes or mathematics, I didn't understand fully, because of an average person's ...more
Andy Bock
I did not understand what was "Golden" about the "Golden Age". What I learned is that there were some clever people who documented existing knowledge and then thought about it, providing some advancement in some fields. That is something which has happened throughout history is is in itself hardly remarkable.
What I missed is a clear indication what the knowledge was before the "Golden Age" and what the level was after the "Golden Age" and then describing the delta and attributing it to a discove
كتاب الرواد يلقي الضوء على عظماء تناستهم كتب التاريخ، ساهموا في مسيرة البشر العلمية. عظماء امثال جابر ابن حيان، الكندي، الخوارزمي، ابن الهيثم، ابن سينا، البيروني، الفارابي، الجاحظ، الجزري، ابن خلدون، عمر الخيام، الرازي، وغيرهم الكثير. بروفيسور الفيزياء النظرية (العراقي الأصل) جيم الخليلي، يأخذنا في رحلة عبر التاريخ، الى عصور الاسلام الاولى. وتحديداً الى عصرها الذهبي، وما رافقه من حركات فكرية وعلمية ضخمة.
I expected more. This would work better as a tv series rather than as a book. I would have wanted more details especially on al-Biruni and al-Haytham.
Maria Chiper
Mar 18, 2017 Maria Chiper rated it it was ok
I wanted to love this book so, so badly. And in a way, I do. But this book suffers from arabicentrism much like European history of science suffers from eurocentrism, and it fails to be convincing on 3 important points:

1. You don't fight fire with fire.
A good nonfiction book has a clear premise and an agenda. This one is set to prove that major European scientific breakthroughs were possible thanks to previous advancements in Arabic science (in separating astronomy from astrology, in creating m
Omar Alhashimi
Mar 05, 2017 Omar Alhashimi rated it really liked it

I've always been interested in Arabic Science. So I thought this was the best opportunity. The book itself is very informative and I liked how detailed it really was. The biggest issue I had with the book is that it is filled with useless information that made no sense being in the book. I wish the author solely focused on the achievements of arabic scientists and focused on how they managed to do those scientific achievements. Those parts were the most fascinating for me and I wish there w
Apr 25, 2013 P D rated it really liked it
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
Dec 30, 2012 Jeff rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
The European Dark Ages had been a period not just of intellectual stagnation but of absolute retreat as the fruits of Greek intellectual investigation were lost to European minds. I'd long been aware of this, just as I'd been aware that it had been the Arabs who had provide the repository for this lost knowledge that had eventually provided the springboard for the European Renaissance.

Jim Al-Khalili aims to show with this book that Arabic science during this interim was far more than merely a co
Apr 14, 2014 Nicole rated it it was ok
Shelves: nonfiction, grown-up
I wanted to be more engaged than I was. The House of Wisdom provided a great introduction to a number 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 no doubt aimed to convince readers unwilling to recognize that the middle east and North A ...more
Kevin Orrman-Rossiter
Modern science is said to start in Renaissance Europe. It has even been said that it began when Renaissance Christians threw off their mediaeval intellectual shackles and sinned, by becoming curious about the world. There is no doubt that renaissance Europe represents the start of a prodigious burst of human ingenuity and thought. Awash with riches from the New World, aided by the invention of the printing press, which allowed the transmission of new ideas far more rapidly than before, and later ...more
Stuart Brown
May 24, 2016 Stuart Brown rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science

A good review of the contributions of scholars from the Arabic-speaking world to the historical development of science, well-written and detailed. Al-Khalili's project is to show that, far from simply being unimaginative transmitters of Greco-Roman knowledge during the Western "dark ages", the Arabic-speaking world developed and contributed significantly to that knowledge, and he largely succeeds in this.
I only have two criticisms: firstly, al-Khalili steers clear of philosophical and theologica
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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
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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.” 3 likes
“for we have been deprived of all the people of knowledge save for a group, small in number, with many troubles, whose concern in life is to snatch the opportunity, when time is asleep, to devote themselves meanwhile to the investigation and perfection of a science; for the majority of people who imitate philosophers confuse the true with the false, and they do nothing but deceive and pretend knowledge, and they do not use what they know of the sciences except for base and material purposes; and if they see a certain person seeking for the right and preferring the truth, doing his best to refute the false and untrue and leaving aside hypocrisy and deceit, they make a fool of him and mock him.” 0 likes
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