In the thousand years between the decline of Rome and the springtime of the Renaissance, science and other branches of learning took a holiday throughout Europe. It was a benighted time in the history most of us raced through in school, skipping lightly through Charlemagne and Richard the Lion-Hearted, the Norman Conquest and the Crusades, and arriving none too soon at the time of Leonardo and Michelangelo, Columbus and da Gama, Erasmus and Luther. Ignored for the most part in Eurocentric accounts is the parallel culture that rose in the Middle East with the swift spread of Islam after the death of the prophet Muhammad in 632. Lands from Spain to Persia and beyond fell to the Muslim sword, and in time some ambitious rulers made their palaces sanctuaries of learning, the think tanks of their day, where astronomers, mathematicians, physicians and philosophers were allowed to venture beyond the received word and to practice science as an empirical inquiry. Jim al-Khalili, an Iraqi-born physicist who has lived in Britain since 1979, has taken on the task of elevating this neglected period to its rightful place in history. His new book, “The House of Wisdom,” reflects a depth of research, an ability to tell a fascinating story well and fair-mindedness where minds too often are closed.
more from John Noble Wolford at the NYT here.