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A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  213 Ratings  ·  30 Reviews
In a world torn by religious antagonism, lessons can be learned from medieval Spanish villages where Muslims, Christians, and Jews rubbed shoulders on a daily basis--sharing irrigation canals, bathhouses, municipal ovens, and marketplaces. Medieval Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture, Hindu-Arabic numerals, philosophical classics, algebra, citrus fruits, co ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 1st 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published March 29th 2005)
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Aug 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: medieval, islam, spain
Vanished World sets medieval Spain before the reader with the warning; we may be blessed or cursed by emulating its example. The Iberian peninsula is the very perimeter of western Europe, within a stone's throw of both the vast continent of Africa and the looming expanse of the Atlantic. Despite its apparent remoteness, Iberia was throughout the ages in the very thick of the action -- the pitch wherin civilizations clashed. In an earlier age, Rome and Carthage sparred; a thousand years later, Vi ...more
Nov 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: islam, middle-east
I thought this book gave an excellent introduction to the history of al-Andalus, a chapter of European history of which I was woefully ignorant. Western history books seem to teach that Spanish history began in 1492, but really some of its brightest moments were centuries before that and Modern Spain is only beginning to catch up. Plus, the juxtaposition of the Song of Roland and the epic of El Cid and the author's interpretation of their differences gave some food for thought. However, I find t ...more
Jonathan Love
Mar 06, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Appropriately timed, I found this book, accidentally, prior to my vacation to Barcelona.

Unfortunately, as I progressed through the Spanish history, I seemed to always be one area e.g., Valencia or the Pyrenees, behind in my reading. Therefore, I missed many an opportunity to see the sites described in the book.

This was an excellent book for any interested in the social/cultural ramifications of the three Abrahamic religions living together and the dire consequences of the minority when the major
Mar 05, 2017 rated it really liked it
Very readable and interesting. Author has quite the varied experiences . . . was a managing director for J.P. Morgan, a graduate of Jesuit university with degrees in medieval history and philosophy, world traveler. Book was published soon after the 2004 Madrid train bombings & that is referenced in the introduction but I'm not sure if it served as the impetus for book itself, which traces Spain's history first as a Christian country under the Visigoths, then Muslim, and then for several cent ...more
Wendy Dunn
Jul 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it ~ George Santayana

“[Suspects]...had no right to know the identities of accusers, the accused were not represented by counsel: under certain circumstances, torture could be used to extract confessions...”

Lowney, regarding the Spanish Inquisition, A Vanished World
A Vanished World is a book that demonstrates why the study of history is so important and why we must take stock of its lessons.

A Vanished World examines Medieval Spain during a time
I read this book for my Atlantic history class, which started with medieval southern Spain (Andalusia, al-Andalus in Arabic) and the Reconquista and then covered the colonization of West Africa (by the Portuguese) and the West Indies (by the Spanish). This book shows how Andalusia became a center of learning, innovation and religious tolerance unlike anywhere else in medieval Europe. There are chapters on mathematics, philosophy and medicine, and also some examples of agricultural innovation (ne ...more
Jan 08, 2016 rated it it was ok
A bit too slow and dry for my taste. Even the exciting topics (El Cid, Charlemagne) were made to feel boring, though I think the author did a great job of making this history feel relevant with the war on terror, etc.
I purchased this book this summer from the shop at Granada's Alhambra, as an addition to my many books about medieval Judaism. It proved to be an interesting and most worthwhile investment.

Chris Lowney introduces us - or for those of us who are already familiar with the history, takes us back to - Spain before Islam, to a time when the Visigoths had visions of a fully Christian Iberian peninsula. Then we are taken on a journey throughout the centuries, through the Moorish conquests of Spain, int
May 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
For me this filled in a lot of information that I missed in undergraduate study. I don't think that information like this was considered so pertinent 45 years ago. Understanding the roots and permutations of our present day dilemmas with how religion and politics have interacted over the years is now of paramount importance.

There are many eye-opening passages here describing both the good and the ugly in Spain during this period. I feel that, in general, we don't know enough about the interplay
Ruth Ann
Jul 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: world-history
I found this interesting and well-written, and it's a period of history I knew almost nothing about. It did seem, by the time I was halfway through, that the publisher's blurb overstates Lowney's thesis considerably, making the 700 years of Al-Andalus sound like seven centuries of sheer brotherly love between Muslims, Christians, and Jews. In fact, much of the book traces the political strife between Christians and Muslims. There's one, very welcome chapter where the interaction between the comm ...more
Jun 25, 2014 rated it liked it
A brief survey of the great medieval Spaniards -- Muslim, Jewish, and Christian -- who made significant contributions to world civilization. The chapters form mini-biographies. Chris Lowney's great strength is to show that a multi-religious society (even when toleration was based on necessity rather than choice) can make contributions a homogenous society will often neglect; drawbacks are an occasionally simplistic approach and an arch style. The "Suggested Readings" were just what I would want ...more
Ivan Granger
Feb 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
Much like The Ornament of the World, a very readable overview of the culture and history of Andalusian Spain with moments of fascinating insight -- but in frustratingly brief glances. Recommended to anyone interested in the cultural meeting point between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, as well as the roots of the European Renaissance. But I'm still waiting for a truly deep philosophical and historical examination of this fascinating, forgotten era.
Rik Brooymans
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely outstanding. An extremely interesting and complex topic, the interaction between Christians, Jews and Muslims in medieval Spain, handled in a such a way that offers illumination and entertainment. The overall viewpoint is balanced and common-sense and the writing is clear. There is a great combination of insight and anecdote.

I will definitely try and find more works by this author.

If the topic is of interest for you, this is the perfect place to start.
Feb 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
While I was reading this book, the news came out about the executions of three young Muslim college students by an atheist in North Carolina, and then the executions of Christians by ISIS in Egypt. It made me long not for medieval Spain, but for something from that world, for the world of St. James the pilgrim, not St. James the moor killer.
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book because it looked away from the big kings and empire shirfts towards the small guy on the street. The analysis of the Chanson de Roland and El Cid was well done. Written in a journalist's easy style it is a good travel companion: something you can dip into with your morning café con leche.
Daughters Of Abraham
We did not like this book as a group. It was a difficult read and seemed like a collection of articles rather than a book. Especially since most of the group had very little knowledge about Muslim Spain, it was not a good introduction to the topic. Most members were not able to finish the book, despite being excited to read on the subject.
(Review by Merrimack Valley Group)
Sean Mccarrey
Feb 21, 2013 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. From the depictions of Sufism and Kabbalah, to the historical overtones, this book was quite readable. I felt as though it shed a great deal of light on an area of the world I've grown up hearing about, but never really knew about. It was also quite fascinating to delve into the roots of one of the societies that created the city in which I currently live.
Nov 30, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
I read this a few years ago while traveling through Spain (Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Seville) and ended up reading each chapter slightly before visiting its respective city -- it served as a brilliant travel guide in terms of understanding the cultural history (and present) of the places I was visiting.

Overall, I found reading this to be informative, exciting and poignant.
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I am currently using this book as the primary text for a course on medieval Spanish culture and civilization. I have received a lot of positive feedback from my students. They find it to be very approachable, especially compared to some of the other required readings.
Jan 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Well written not dry history of medieval Spain and the interplay between Christians, Muslims and Jews. In conclusion, people can live together with mutual self interest, but it can quickly disintegrate when power balance changes.
Oct 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Biased, I felt. Negative perspective towards Muslim rule in Spain.

I found one factual error in the book: the author stated that Muslims in Spain did not pay taxes. Muslims in Spain were obligated to give 2.5% of their wealth as taxes.
Lauren Albert
Jun 11, 2013 rated it really liked it
I strangely really enjoyed the book while still finding it somewhat fractured in its narrative. Perhaps it simply read to me more like a connected of linked essays. But it was worth reading and I certainly learned a lot.
Tim Robinson
Sep 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: society
A little bit too intellectual. I was hoping for something more intimate, like verbatim dialog from a princely court, the diary of a town physician or a letter from a village priest. Instead, there is too much focus on literature, philosphy and the lives of a few great men.
Anuar Kassim
Jan 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
An enlightening read on medieval Spain.
Oct 07, 2010 rated it liked it
A reflective look back.A useful source of inspiration for our diverse nation to use as a way to actualize compassion and understanding toward different cultures."They" are "us".
Robert Vazquez Pacheco
Fascinating history of an incredible period that still resonates with us today.
Isidro Rivera
Jun 25, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Solid book. Wonderful overview of Muslin, Jewish and Christian interactions.
Nov 21, 2012 rated it really liked it
excellent but scholarly. It's hard to understand Spain without understanding the threads that run through it. Fascinating at times.
Bradley Farless
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
A little dry in some parts, and a little rambling in others, it ultimately gives the reader a clear window into the world of al-Andalus. It sparked my desire to study the period further.
Lee Staman
Jan 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Very good history of the so-called Golden Era of inter-religious and philosophical transmission that occurred in Spain.
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  • Moorish Spain
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  • Arab Historians of the Crusades
Chris Lowney chairs the board of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nation’s largest healthcare/hospital systems with some $ 19 billion in assets. He is a one-time Jesuit seminarian who later served as a Managing Director of J.P. Morgan & Co in New York, Tokyo, Singapore and London until leaving the firm in 2001. He is a popular keynote speaker who has lectured in more than two-dozen coun ...more
More about Chris Lowney

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