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Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 17, 2009


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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Europe's debt to Islamic scholarship is counted up in this sketchy intellectual history. Freely (Strolling Through Athens), a historian of science, surveys the work of ancient Greek thinkers from Pythagoras through Aristotle and Ptolemy in astronomy, mathematics, physics and medicine. He then recounts how this learning, mostly forgotten in Western Europe during the Dark Ages, was preserved in medieval Islamic capitals, where Arabic translations of Greek scientific texts sparked an intellectual renaissance. Freely contends that Muslim scientists made important advances, but his case falls short with his shallow treatment of their work—little more than a compendium of names, dates and translations. The book deepens when it analyzes the impact on European scientists, from the 11th century onward, of Latin translations of Greco-Arabic scientific texts. Ranging from 13th-century Oxford and the University of Paris to the Newtonian revolution, Freely shows how Western science developed in relation to—and in controversy with—ancient Greek ideas about matter, light, motion and the structure of the heavens. His map of the route from ancient to modern science is informative and intriguing, but it's more of a chronology than a narrative of intellectual history. 33 illus, maps. (Feb. 18)
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From Booklist

A historian of science, Freely chronicles the transmission of scientific ideas from ancient Greece and Rome to an early modern Europe on the cusp of the scientific revolution. Many ancients’ notions about nature were, Freely recounts, preserved from oblivion by scholars based in centers of Islamic learning such as Baghdad, Cairo, and Cordoba. Before reaching those destinations, Freely profiles the Greek sages, enumerating their surviving works and what information they held about mathematics, astronomy, and medicine, among other subjects. Leaving behind a roster of names that is likely familiar to the core audience, Freely’s account then addresses Islamic rulers, such as the first caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty around 800, who sponsored translations into Arabic of Greek texts. Freely ranges over the names of Islamic scholars so occupied, who served as arks for Greek science, and of original thinkers who formulated such topics as algebra, all of which reached the West in the cultural diffusion Freely describes. A sinuous odyssey through scientific ideas, Freely’s work will most appeal to tastes for intellectual history. --Gilbert Taylor
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition, First Printing edition (February 17, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726534X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307265340
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,711 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

3.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By D. Lamblin on August 3, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have read this book cover to cover, occasionally sharing it out-loud with friends and discussing it over a period of weeks. My friends begged me to stop. I myself couldn't believe I didn't just consign this book to the "useless" category. The premise that Greek Science came to Europe through the islamic world is inarguably established in this work, as to the specifics of how, that is still a very vaguely answered question. This book suffers from its breadth and brevity combined. I am almost assured that there was an editor but it seems that this editor unfortunately chose to cut and expand on the wrong parts entirely, as if there was no encompassing vision for the finished work.

When first encountering the book in a store, I randomly read some of the beginning and some of the parts near the end. This accidentally lead me into the only clear and interesting section of the book. So definitely this book is not without its merits. However, several of the chapters seem to have been written independently of the whole, and edited into the work. Most of these appear at the end. The closing chapter, while taking an interestingly personal approach, doesn't add to any part of the book other than to establish the idea that "Aladdin's lamp" is metaphorical for the flourishing of science and that not all scientists under Islam were members of that faith. The section on the Archimedes Palimpsest and the Antikythera computer are relevant and interesting, yet felt like a meld of material I'd read earlier, and didn't directly support any conclusion to this book.

This issue is that while this book may be thorough, grammatically correct, and expansive, it's raw unedited lecture-notes style defies my concept of well-written.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Alex C. Telander on June 16, 2009
Format: Hardcover
ALADDIN'S LAMP: HOW GREEK SCIENCE CAME TO EUROPE THROUGH THE ISLAMIC WORLD BY JOHN FREELY: John Freely takes on a subject he clearly already knows a lot about, having written books on Istanbul, Turkey, Crete, and a good portion of Asia Minor. In Aladdin's Lamp he goes into extreme detail in revealing how we are today able to enjoy the Greek classics of Plato, Homer, and many others. While the book at times takes on an almost classroom-like routine with chapter after chapter, throwing more information in an almost dry, regurgitative sense; Aladdin's Lamp is nevertheless a very interesting book into the history of the classics and how they survived.

Freely begins at the beginning, perhaps going on for a little too long, but clearly relishing in telling the reader about some of the great works of the Greeks, with the likes of Archimedes, Plato, and Pythagoras, and what it is they found out in a time when science was a barely flourishing discipline. While on the one hand these were some amazing people who were able to come up with standards of architecture, and a surprisingly close approximation of the circumference of the Earth, Freely needs to get on with the reason for writing this book, and not give us a history lesson on Ancient Greece.

The first third of the book done, Freely finally goes into the next chapter of the Islamic world, how Baghdad was a paradise of the world that flourished with culture and literature. It was because of a number of circumstances, and the constant mixing of peoples with trade from throughout the Western World, that these sacred texts were first preserved after the fall of the Rome and then the Byzantine world, and then translated.
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13 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Dan on April 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover
This book is a disaster, but interesting. The editor should be flogged.

Essentially this is a chronological glossary of scholars, translators, philosophers and scientists from the greek through arabic to renaissance era.

No figure gets more than say 3 paragraphs for the most part. It is an interesting tour de force of the subject. But there is no story, there is no tracking of specific ideas of how the science transmitted. Just a series of chronological people and what they achieved simple stated.

Now I did enjoy the wander through history and figures and put some into my own knowledge frame of reference. But by the 2nd chapter I had to will myself to keep reading.

What a mess and a tragedy given the extensive knowledge inside the covers so unimaginiatively constructed. Definiately a bad move by the editor to let this go out.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Ceres on May 24, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I gave this book two stars only because of the subject matter. Any attempt to broaden one's cultural knowledge and expectations deserves some praise.

But the praise stops there. I can not imagine a more dull and tedious book. The author's approach is to devote each chapter to an Islamic city, more or less in the historical order in which they came to prominence, and then list every scholar whose works might be considered scientific. (Astrology counts.) There is no attempt to amplify the discussion, to bring to life any of the figures mentioned or to put things into a broader historical context.

A dry and dusty tome.
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