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Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: A Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0801897399
ISBN-10: 0801897394
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Editorial Reviews


A fascinating work of multi-cultural scholarship tracing the fortunes of a 12th century Arabic text in four eras of Western history.

(Bernard Bailyn, Harvard University)

This highly interesting volume can be described in three ways. First it is a historical analysis of the concept of autodidacticism. Second, it is the history of a particular book. Finally, the book is self-described as an exercise in interdisciplinarity... The method of this historiographic proposal is described as 'historical sampling,' whereby the appropriation of a text in various cultural contexts is displayed and compared. In all three of the abovementioned ways, the present reviewer judges the book to be a success. Moreover, it is written in such a lively style with rich detail that it is engrossing from start to finish.

(M. V. Dougherty Renaissance Quarterly)

Ben-Zaken sketches this backdrop to Hayy beautifully.

(Lydia Wilson Times Literary Supplement)

This engaging book is slight in size yet ambitious in scope and innovative in methodology... overall, this is a splendid and daring book!

(Peter Heath International Journal of Middle East Studies)

This book will inspire future scholars along three different paths. First,it encourages fuller development of the reception-history of Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan; second, it opens up new directions in the study of the wider themes of autodidacticism and experimental learning in the early modern world; and, finally, it illustrates a new, increasingly popular methodology in the practice of intellectual history that moves beyond the constraints of period, national literature, religious orientation, and even scholarly discipline to produce a thick description of the movement of ideas across time. This is an extraordinary accomplishment for a relatively slim monograph.

(Suzanne Conklin Akbari American Historical Review)

This is an impressive interdisciplinary achievement.

(Nicolai Sinai Journal of Islamic Studies)

A fascinating and deftly told story of the development of autodidacticism... This study opens an illuminating window to cross-cultural exchanges.

(Su Fang Ng Sixteenth Century Journal)

Reading Ḥayy Ibn-Yaqẓān is a mesmerizing study that will enchant anyone interested in interdisciplinary cross-cultural explorations that transform the way we look at the past and the present.

(Justin Grosslight The Arts Fuse)

This whirlwind tour through five centuries does an immense amount of work in presenting of both the text itself and four contexts of reception. Ben-Zaken’s patient ‘de-layering’ of each generation’s use of the text uncovers new readings of all-contexts – the original work and of its repeated translations.

(Lydia Wilson British Journal for the History of Science)

About the Author

Avner Ben-Zaken is the chair of the humanities program at Ono College, Israel. He specializes in the cross-cultural history of science and is the author of Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560–1660, also published by Johns Hopkins.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; 1 edition (December 7, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801897394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801897399
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,812,454 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Avner Ben-Zaken is a historian of early-modern science who focuses on cross-cultural exchanges between West and East, covering the greater Mediterranean region. In 2004 he completed a doctoral degree in history of science at the University of California, Los-Angeles and until 2008 he served as a junior fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows. His works have dealt with the role scientific networks played in linking late medieval Islamic and Jewish scientific cultures to the rising new European sciences. His historiographical approach cuts through division into regional studies and goes beyond the focus on one particular culture, overarching such constructed disciplinary boundaries by focusing on the intense dialogue and collaboration that took place not only between cultures, but also between various disciplines.
He is the author of Cross-Cultural Scientific Exchanges in the Eastern Mediterranean, 1560--1660 (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010); Reading Hayy Ibn-Yaqzan: Cross-Cultural History of Autodidacticism (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010); Communism as Cultural Imperialism (Tel-Aviv: Resling, 2006).

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Michael Huntley on June 29, 2015
Format: Hardcover
A remarkable historiographical achievement - Ben-Zaken is putting together four different historical incidents that took place in four different cultures and languages into one coherent story on the circulation, readership and reception of the quintessential essay on autodidacticism. I wonder, though, whether one could write such history without excluding other cultures and time periods. But, all in all, this is a splendid book and daring book.
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Format: Hardcover
A brilliant read. Very important historical perspective to understand the past and the future.
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