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A Vanished World: Medieval Spain's Golden Age of Enlightenment Hardcover – April 6, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This bold and compassionate articulation of medieval Spanish history, with its complex interactions among Jews, Muslims and Christians, speaks directly to contemporary international crises. Lowney (Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World) is more explicit in providing ethical lessons than Maria Rosa Menocal in Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, but his convictions are gently woven into the narrative and are never didactic. Lowney tells the tale of coexistence, and its eventual unraveling, with detail, delicacy and verve, avoiding a romanticized exaggeration of tolerance. He is hardheaded about the motives that underlay an acceptance of religious diversity in medieval Iberia, and is acutely aware of the period's dark ironies: for instance, Muslim Granada survived by selling out its coreligionists in Seville, and Alfonso the Wise had a schizophrenic relationship with Spanish Jews. Lowney's account reflects a good deal of recent scholarship and avoids stereotypical recasting of the Black Legend; students of medieval history will learn much from Lowney's fresh perspective. But he remains sensitive to the indissoluble pain that accompanied the disasters of the late Middle Ages. This engrossing and illuminating book deserves the attention of a wide public. One map. Agent, Jim Fitzgerald.(Apr. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

To organize Spanish history from the Muslim conquest of 711 to the completion in 1492 of the Catholic Reconquista, Lowney deploys a set of minibiographies. The author's main concern, however, is not biographical: writing with contemporary religious strife in mind (Lowney's first words are about the Madrid terrorist atrocity of March 2004), the author explores the thoughts and actions of his subjects--Muslim, Christian, or Jew--toward the religious other. Lowney's eye on the present does not negatively affect his presentation as popular history, for the portraits are vivid and even mordant, and strict historical accuracy is often impossible to ascertain. Unrolling the centuries, Lowney includes heroic icons such as El Cid, and figures who, like him though not as famous, were less than convert-or-die totalists in religious conflicts. Lowney's accomplished work comprehensibly covers medieval Spain and connects the country's past to its present. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1st edition (April 6, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743243595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743243599
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,901 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Chris Lowney chairs the board of Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nation's largest healthcare/hospital systems. He formerly served as a Managing Director of J.P. Morgan & Co in New York, Tokyo, Singapore and London until leaving the firm in 2001. He has lectured in more than two-dozen countries on on leadership, business ethics, and other related topics.

He is the author of four books. "Heroic Leadership," a # 1 ranked bestseller of the CBPA, was named a finalist for a 2003 Book of the Year Award from ForeWord magazine and has been translated into eleven languages. He is also author of "Heroic Living," and "A Vanished World"-- Chris was featured in the PBS-aired documentary, "Cities of Light," which echoed many of that book's key themes. His latest work, Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads, has been called, "an invaluable gift," and "a book for the ages."

He founded Pilgrimage for Our Children's Future, which funds education and healthcare projects in the developing world. He also served as volunteer founding president of Jesuit Commons, an innovative collaboration which offers online university education in refugee camps in Africa and elsewhere.

He is a one-time Jesuit seminarian, and a summa cum laude graduate of Fordham University, where he also received his M.A. He is holder of five honorary Doctoral degrees.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

66 of 72 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on May 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
This book is a super good read. It is popular history at its most entertaining. However, it is much more than that; it is a passionate plea for tolerance, and especially for religious tolerance. This is, of course, very timely, since the world today is sinking into the same religious hatreds that ruined Spain in the last centuries covered by this book.

For more than seven centuries, Christianity and Islam split the Iberian peninsula between them, with Jews forming a third major religious community. Sometimes there was "convivencia" (successful living-together); usually there was fighting, but at least there was mutual learning. Much of modern European civilization came from Islam, mostly via Spain--everything from the lute (al'ud in Arabic) to saffron (az-zafran) to the works of Aristotle and Galen, which survived largely in Arabic translations and had to be reintroduced to west Europe after the Dark Ages. For centuries, Spain was a vast, wide-open pipeline, siphoning civilization to the west. This story is repressed and hidden in too many standard histories.

I hope that Lowney's book gets many people interested in this amazing period of history. Readers will want to follow up by looking up the more serious literature. Excellent advanced histories and art studies are available. I would especially recommend the poetry: the unbelievably beautiful Spanish, Catalan and Galician lyrics that delighted the Christians, and the soaringly romantic or darkly brooding poems of the Arabic masters. (And there were, inevitably, even some poems written in both: Arabic poems with rather mangled Spanish verses interspersed.) Latin/Spanish and Arabic ideas of fine writing, as well as ideas of love and loss and beauty, cross-fertilized each other, producing some of the most musical sounds and dramatic images in all literature. Many excellent anthologies are available. Look them up on Amazon!
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Louis Jerome on September 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Mr. Lowney's "A Vanished World" is a remarkable work that illuminates the sometimes expedient, often begrudging ability of the three great monotheistic religions to live and work amidst each other in medieval Spain. Written in a vigorous prose punctuated with warm humor and keen religious sensitivity, and informed by considerable research, A Vanished World illustrates for the modern reader a means by which we might consider a route toward cultural and interfaith understanding. Mr. Lowney capably compares the attitude of "El Cid," in which nobility and goodness is as likely to be shared by Moors as well as by Christians, with the dour certainty of "The Song of Roland," in which "the pagans are wrong and the Christians are right." The former reflects its composition in a polyglot Spain, where simple exposure to multiple faiths resulted in a tolerance by necessity that "Roland," composed in a far-off Christian country with little concern for the reality on the ground, could arrogantly ignore. The lesson for our own struggle to understand the faith-fueled crises of the present day is plainly made and gracefully argued. Mr. Lowney rewards the reader with entertaining and incisive portraits of the great figures who rose from each of the faith traditions, from the 12th-century Jewish rationalist Daniel Maimonides, to the Muslim Averroes, the great "Commentator" on Plato, to the Christian king "Alfonso the Wise," whose image appears above the gallery doors of the US House of Representatives, in honor of his law code. In all, "A Vanished World" is popular history of the highest order, eminently readable and thought-provoking.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Paul Kiernan on August 31, 2005
Format: Hardcover
As a fan of Mr. Lowney's first book, I was frankly intimidated by the subject matter of his latest book. Where Heroic Leadership was a brisk yet insightful piece about the qualities of true leaders, A Vanished World promised to expose how thin was my grasp on world history. I feared "taking my medicine."

How wrong I was!

To my surprise and delight, I found the book informative and even gripping. Using a series of short biographies of political, military, religious, and intellectual figures in Spain during the Middle Ages, Lowney identifies the threads that held together that region and that just as frequently pulled it apart. The scholarship is solid; the writing careful, balanced, and ultimately persuasive. The book's message of how tolerance can be spread and how it can be so easily wiped out is of obvious importance and relevance. Those who feel that we live in a unique age of terror and religious confrontation would do well do learn this history and to see, if even dimly, the possibilities of reconciliation and of hope.

Like other great popular histories, it does not talk down to its readers or modernize its subjects. A Vanished World invites you to explore something you knew little about and to share in a genuine intellectual treat. A good work and well worth your time.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Flippy on September 6, 2008
Format: Paperback
Menocal's "The Ornament of the World" is a romanticized account of the Moors eight-hundred year presence in Spain. Lowney's "A Vanished World" is a bit more realistic. Where Menocal sees her subject with the gloss of nostalgia, idealizing the realm of her historical figures with commemorative essays, Lownney places the subject back into the world, revealing a world with ambiguity, passion and chaos. Menocal likes to hide some of the darker human elements of Moorish Spain; Lowney is a bit more straight-forward, not letting his historical text get too cramped with ideals.

The two books might complement each other although neither might be a seminal work.

I still prefer Menocal's work because it was sheer pleasure to read her text. Lowney is a solid writer but he lacks Menocal's enthusiasm, melancholy and sympathy. But Lowney offers a bit larger picture, looking at Christian, Jewish and Moorish lives and cultures within Spain of the Medieval Era. His chapters are brief, he engages and moves on. Menocal focussed mainly on the Moorish and Jewish characters, and paid due attention to the Christian historical figures only when discussing the Reconquest. Lowney is great in that he gives due attention to all the main historical figures and events: i.e. Isisdore of Seville, Santiago, al-Tariq, Pope Sylvester, Abd Al-Rahman, Almansor, Ferdinand III, Moses Maimonides, Averroes, Ibn 'Arabi, etc...

My one gripe: I wish he had spent more time discussing and elaborating on the importance of the philosophers and mystics of Spain. His discussions were far too brief and I'm still hungry to learn more. In this, Lowney doesn't satisfy, offering bread crumbs instead of a good intellectual sandwich.

All in all, a satisfying introduction. It is very approachable as a history book, surely one, like Menocal's, to inspire further reading.
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