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The House Of Wisdom

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  768 ratings  ·  101 reviews
The remarkable story of how medieval Arab scholars made dazzling advances in science and philosophy—and of the itinerant Europeans who brought this knowledge back to the West.

For centuries following the fall of Rome, western Europe was a benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflict. Meanwhile Arab culture was thriving, dazzli
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published January 13th 2009 by Bloomsbury Press (first published December 23rd 2008)
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3.84  · 
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 ·  768 ratings  ·  101 reviews

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Michael Snuffin
Jan 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone
Shelves: history
Excellent book. The subtitle should read "How Arabs saved Western Civilization from the ignorance of the Roman Catholic Church." I found it an even more interesting read in light of the current rise of Islamophobia in the Unites States. A little dense in places, but otherwise easy to digest.

This book loses a star by cause of the fact that it could have benefited from better supporting material. The timeline at the front of the book seemed incomplete, while the list of notable persons needed date
Jun 15, 2012 rated it it was ok
Shelves: science, history
Rating: 2.5 of 5 stars

The House of Wisdom presents the interesting case that Arab culture essentially birthed Western civilization as we know it. There is, however, a problem; this book is without doubt one of the most biased histories I have ever read. One is almost left with the impression that the author decided to write the book to support his thesis and "researched" accordingly. Most of the examples of Arabic advances are very generalized, especially in the scientific arena. When detailed e
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
In this fascinating book, Jonathan Lyons uncovers a mostly-unknown period of our history. During the Dark Ages and early medieval period, western Europe sunk into a deep pit of ignorance and intellectual stagnation. The scientific and philosophical achievements of the ancient world were forgtten. Europeans could not even tell the time or know for certain when Easter would fall.
Europe was wrenched out of its ignorance, Lyons argues, by contact with the intellectually vibrant Islamic world, start
Jan 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: couldnt-finish
I rarely give up on a book before I've finished, but this was just a waste of time. While Europe was in the Dark Ages, incredible scientific advances were being made in the Middle East. It's a pity the modern West isn't more aware of its debt, but this is not the book to change that. Lyons' book emphasizes personalities and salacious details (while criticizing Europe for its obsession with the same) instead of the development of scientific knowledge, paints a simplified black/white picture of ba ...more
Jonathan Lyons
I wrote this book -- so perhaps I am slightly biased in its favor -- to show the depth and breadth of the Muslim contribution to our idea of Western civilization. It was well-reviewed and nine foreign language editions are completed or in process, including Spanish, Portuguese, Turkish, Chinese, Dutch, and Arabic.
Robert Delikat
Nov 25, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I read/listened to this book at roughly the same time as God Is Not Great. In the latter, Christopher Hitchens ruminates about the disparaging influences of all religions including Islam. The House of Wisdom does not posit to argue to the contrary as some reviewers would have us believe. The book is about, and perhaps sometimes incompletely, the influence of Arab and Muslim (not always the same people) thought, discovery and invention on the West prior to the Renaissance. Such influences include ...more
Baron Moose
Oct 09, 2016 rated it did not like it
I read this book as part of an 8th-15th century class that focused on Western Interactions with the Islamic world. I had my suspicions about the qualifications of the Professor when he gave down rather inaccurate summary of the 'secret to Alexander the Great' and lauded Alexander as being 'humble' and knowing when his 'Empire was too big to continue'.

Imagine my surprise, then, when we were required to read Jonathan Lyons brutally biased history of Arabic contributions to the West.

Lyons acts as t
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, middle-ages
Let me start this review by saying that this is not the kind of book I usually read or would even pick up. I read it for a book club, so that may color my perception of the book a bit.

I did enjoy the book's introduction to the Arabs' contributions to science and mathematics during the same time period of Europe's dark ages. It was something I had never really encountered in books or my education before and I liked learning about it. The religious issues with the study of science were also inter
Nov 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
I don’t leave a lot of bad reviews here, but this book was really problematic. Like many reviewers have said here already, it is terribly biased. In fact, by chapter two, I was wondering if he was a religious convert since he was almost coming across irrationally; painting history in terms of good guys and bad guys across a thousand years of history! Later, I wondered if he wasn't just engaging in some of the worst habits we sometimes see in journalists. What I mean is, rather than just tell the ...more
Biblio Curious
I'm going to review the desert out of this book!!! *puffed disgruntled face*
Edoardo Albert
Jan 15, 2013 rated it did not like it
Poor. Lyons treatment of the Arabic and Islamic contribution to the development of science is adequate but he is woefully inaccurate about 'Dark Age' Europe.
Aizuddin Khalid
A complex but eye opening revelation of the truths of the past vastly unknown to modern man. The book phases & demonstrates how the great knowledge accumulation of the Arabs not only revolutionized the East but also the West & the erest of the world.

Muslim science and philosophy have always been anchored to worship & glorifying of The One God. The motivations are always to make the world a better place to live for all people alike and to uncover secrets of the universe as encouraged
Mohammad Aboomar
First of all, the title is misleading. This book is not about Baghdad's House of Wisdom that witnessed the famous translation movement, but rather about a myriad of topics that takes place in the west.

The book was a good read, but not coherent and did not focus on the topic at hand.

It also persistently felt like a commission for some reason.
Jun 29, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, culture, science
I had inklings of a lot of what this book covered, but it's a good overview of the ways in which the West absorbed scientific and philosophical thinking from the great Arab thinkers of the middle ages. Lyons makes the excellent point that while some still think of the Arabs as merely recorders, maintainers and passers-on of earlier Greek thought, in actuality Muslim scientists and philosophers made great advances in science and philosophy while Europe struggled through it's dark ages. When the W ...more
Omar Essawi
Nov 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Excellent. The story of the plethora of Arab scientists at the house of wisdom in Baghdad during the Middle Ages, and how it evolved under Abbasid rule. This book tells the story of the enlightened Arab world, who not only translated the great works of the Greeks such as Aristotle, Ptolemy and Euclid, but built on this knowledge in the fields of astronomy, medicine, pharmacology, mathematics and optics to mention a few. How they incorporated great Hindu knowledge, and inherited paper making tech ...more
Sep 29, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: haveread
Riveting. I love the way the author takes this subject and transforms it into an engaging story of how the past interactions between Muslims and Christians is just as important, if not more so now, than when it began. Lyons shows the continuation of the past with the conflicts and problems of today. This is the first book that truly puts Western thoughts and misconceptions about the Muslim East into perspective and states why we are still having conflicts between the Christians and Muslims. The ...more
Not so much read as listened to, it's not bad but it never really held my attention. The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance by Jim Al-Khalili is a much better book.
Feb 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Having read similar books about the contributions of Arab/Islamic civilization, I have to say that this is a worthy addition not only for the passion of the writer but through his attempts to actually chart the touch points in history where the transfer of knowledge and wisdom occurred whether through England, Spain or Italy. This contrasts with other more general accounts that have elaborated the contributions without actively addressing the mechanics for this transfer of knowledge.
Nura Yusof
Jul 25, 2011 rated it liked it
Very in-depth research went into the book. Made it at times, difficult to follow. But it did answer the question of how Middle Eastern knowledge got transfered to the West.

However, while it did answer that question, another one comes up. What happened after that? It looked as if the Arabs just gave up their scientific and philosophical preeminence. What happened to have caused that?
Oct 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Timely Theme — Important and Educational for Many

Philosophy and theology. The history of science. Contributions of the great minds to human progress. And finally, the strong contributions from Arab nations.
If any of these topics interest you – and they certainly should – you will share my fascination for The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization by Jonathan Lyons.
Even those with a foundation of knowledge in these topics will find themselves surprised at many points.
It was ok. I was hoping this book would discuss in more detail what was happening on the Arab/Muslim side of the story -- I would have liked to find out more about how the House of Wisdom came to be, and what role it played in the history of the Abbasid caliphate -- but overall I felt like we got more of a scattershot discussion of how some western European scholars interpreted the Arabic texts they encountered. Initially it seemed like the book's framing was going to be based on the history of ...more
Nov 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, science, islam
The Dark Middle Ages, when nothing happened in advancing our thinking when philosophy was stagnant - all in Europe, but it all flourished in the Arab world. This book is about that, what they discovered, sat in motion, and how it was brought to Europe. The book started as a mess, but after the initial confusion the story builds and we get an orderly representation of the most important events. The author follows particularly Abelard of Bath, as he was one of them that went into the Arab world to ...more
Jason Wilson
Feb 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
The house of wisdom was a vast library in 9th - 12th century Baghdad that accumulated the masses of Ancient Greek and other writings. Thus the questions posed as to whether the universe had a beginning and so on were debated within Islamic thought.

Enter Adelard of Bath, a 12 th century monk who determined to find all this out in the wake of the crusades. Thus begins the Church’s journey through hostility towards Aquinas’ marriage of faith and reason. The Holy Roman Emperor leads the charge towar
Peter Talbot
May 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Must read in History
First published in 2009, this brilliant, concise synthetic history of the growth of natural philosophical thought in the Arab world and the West's huge (and censored) debt to Albumazar, Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and their early translators in the High Middle Ages (Adelard of Bath, Michael Scot), together with the real politics of Norman Sicily, Al-Andalus and Antioch is indispensable to anyone that would pretend to knowledge of Christian theology, the history
Hamayun Zafar
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: islamic-history
Though biased at times, the book provides a good overlook on the scientific and cultural achievements of Muslims during their Golden Age. Political unrest or religious sectarianism or differences between Rationalists and Traditionalists that were central to the Islamic empire of that time are not really discussed, may be they were not necessary to be infused with the topic at hand. Other than that, a good read.
Feb 08, 2018 rated it liked it
"Upon the insistence of his friends and family, with whom he had just reunited, Adelard surveyed the state of English society. 'I found,' he writes in Questions on Natural Science, shortly after his return home, 'the princes barbarous, the bishops bibulous, judges bribable, patrons unreliable, clients sycophants, promisers liars, friends envious, and almost everybody full of ambition.'" (123)

"'Our work is to present things that are as they are.'" (quoting Frederick II, 172)
Guillaume Dohmen
A revision of the Middle Ages

Having read books on the Middle Ages since my school days in the 1940s this volume introduced me to one of the most important backgrounds of the European period. I had no idea how important the scholars of the early Islamic culture were. The book is easy to read and one learns a lot from it.
Medo Hamdani
Jun 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this book you will get an idea about the role of the Arabs and Muslims in evolving the world as we currently see it. Despite all the media cover, and the bad reputation that they attach it to Islam, this book will give you an insight on how advanced they were and their great role they played in the world.
Eric Schudy
May 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
the Dark Ages weren't so Dark

Great read. Belies the euro-centric idea of the fall of Civilization after Western Roman Empire breaks apart.
The Arabs, then the greater Muslim community advanced science.

Of course the Jews never stopped advancing, and contributed greatly too.
Jul 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: abandoned
I really, really wanted to be enamored with this, but I had to bail halfway through. I have so much I want to read that I can't spend time when a work feels like a chore. Maybe I will come back to it someday.
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Jonathan Lyons spent twenty years as a foreign correspondent and editor for Reuters, much of it in the Islamic world. He holds a Ph.D. in sociology from Monash University and lives in Portland, Oregon. His publications include The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization and (with Geneive Abdo) Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in Twenty-First-Century Iran.