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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

3.83  ·  Rating Details ·  314 Ratings  ·  43 Reviews
A myth-shattering view of the Islamic world's myriad scientific innovations and the role they played in sparking the European Renaissance.

Many of the innovations that we think of as hallmarks of Western science had their roots in the Arab world of the middle ages, a period when much of Western Christendom lay in intellectual darkness. Jim al- Khalili, a leading British-I
Kindle Edition, 339 pages
Published (first published 2011)
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May 20, 2011 Natalie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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  ·  review of another edition
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
Mary Craven
Feb 25, 2014 Mary Craven rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
May 08, 2016 Raven rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jun 10, 2011 Einschrein rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 09, 2011 David rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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؟
Sep 15, 2014 Chris rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Maria Chiper
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
Apr 25, 2013 P D rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 14, 2014 Nicole rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jo O'donnell
A nice primer on Medieval Arab/Islamic science that arose from the author's BBC documentary - which has its own, eponymous tie-in book Science and Islam. Both gallop through the large advances Arabs/Persians/etc made in scientific knowledge and methods during the time frame of roughly 900-1500: chemistry, physics, optics, astronomy, engineering, the invention of systematized algebra - the list goes on.

The intellectual advancements of this period are sadly little-known in the West, which tends t
Jan 19, 2013 Janie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Fahed S. Al Kerdi
As a history-field's researcher, I found this book one the most spectacular books in the history of the Islamic civilization, significantly, Jim tried to reflect the effect of the house of wisdom as a center of knowledge in Baghdad. one of the things I like about this book is the encyclopedic-writing way that Dr. Jim had followed in his book, the chapters were segmented onto formal titles, so it's help the academic people to focus on a certain subject, I consider this as an advantage point for D ...more
Mar 28, 2014 Sandy marked it as other-adult-books  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 28, 2011 Bill rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition

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
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.
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.
Kelly Delph
Sep 01, 2015 Kelly Delph rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm enjoying this. Like many histories, I don't try to learn some many facts and names as absorb and general overview. It's especially true when I read history about people whose languages I don't speak; I always feel like I'm mispronouncing their names (and places), so I just don't try. I think of it as reading for continuity.
Faidhi Yusoff
A great introduction to the works of Arab and Persian scholars in science. The most interesting fact is the patronage of the rulers of the time not just able to bring out a period of scientific discovery in the Muslim community but enable the Jews and Christian works to coexist under the rulers' influence.
Anna Murray
Sep 29, 2014 Anna Murray rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This book could have been written much better, but for the writer's obvious desire to promote all things Arab and discredit all things Western/Christian. The author's bias is a sad distraction from the subject matter. Excessive hyperbole also made me skeptical of many of his claims.
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.
Dec 03, 2012 ACRL added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: motw
Read by ACRL Member of the Week Yasmeen Shorish. Learn more about Yasmeen on the ACRL Insider blog.
Chad Brock
2.5; I loved the subject. However, it was a bit too cursory, especially in its treatment of Andalusian science and scholarship, and was poorly written.
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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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