The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization (Hardcover)

How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization

By Jonathan Lyons

Bloomsbury Press, 9781596914599, 272pp.

Publication Date: January 6, 2009



The remarkable story of how medieval Arab scholars made dazzling advances in science and philosophy and of the itinerant Europeans who brought this knowledge back to the West.
For centuries following the fall of Rome, western Europe was a benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflict. Meanwhile Arab culture was thriving, dazzling those Europeans fortunate enough to catch even a glimpse of the scientific advances coming from Baghdad, Antioch, or the cities of Persia, Central Asia, and Muslim Spain. T here, philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers were steadily advancing the frontiers of knowledge and revitalizing the works of Plato and Aristotle. I n the royal library of Baghdad, known as the House of Wisdom, an army of scholars worked at the behest of the Abbasid caliphs. At a time when the best book collections in Europe held several dozen volumes, the House of Wisdom boasted as many as four hundred thousand.

Even while their countrymen waged bloody Crusades against Muslims, a handful of intrepid Christian scholars, thirsty for knowledge, traveled to Arab lands and returned with priceless jewels of science, medicine, and philosophy that laid the foundation for the Renaissance. I n this brilliant, evocative book, Lyons shows just how much "Western" culture owes to the glories of medieval Arab civilization, and reveals the untold story of how Europe drank from the well of Muslim learning.

About the Author

Jonathan Lyons served as an editor and foreign correspondent mostly in the Muslim world for Reuters for more than twenty years. He is now a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Center and a Ph.D. candidate in the sociology of religion, both at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia."

Praise For The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization


"Sophisticated and thoughtful... In The House of Wisdom, [Lyons] shapes his narrative around the travels of the little-known but extraordinary Adelard of Bath, an English monk who traveled to the East in the early 12th century.... Mr. Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant."—Wall Street Journal

"With a storyteller's eye for the revealing detail and an artist's feel for the sweep of history, Jonathan Lyons has uncovered the debt that the Christian world--and Western civilization--owes to Muslim philosophy and science. House of Wisdom is a fascinating and picturesque page-turner."—Ian Bremmer, author of The J Curve

"Lyons capably delineates the fascinating journey of this knowledge to the West, highlighting a few key figures, including Adelard of Bath, whose years spent in Antioch paid off grandly in bringing forth his translations of Euclid and al-Khwarizmi; and Michael Scot, science adviser and court astrologer to Frederick II, who translated Avicenna and Averroes."—Kirkus

"The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization is a 320-page treasure trove of information for the uninitiated that packs a powerful punch of science, history, geography, politics and general knowledge at a time when so much disinformation about the Arab world is swirling around in various media."—Magda Abu-Fadil, Huffington Post

"Jonathan Lyons tells the story of the House of Wisdom, the caliphs who supported it and the people who worked there, at a riveting, breakneck pace."Times (UK)

“Sophisticated and thoughtful…In The House of Wisdom, Jonathan Lyons shapes his narrative around the travels of the little-known but extraordinary Adelard of Bath, an English monk who traveled to the East in the early 12th century and learned Arabic well enough to translate mathematical treatises into English…. Mr. Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant.” –Eric Ormsby, Wall Street Journal

“Jonathan Lyons vividly conveys the excitement young European scholars travelling east must have felt as they glimpsed a dazzling new world of learning.” –Jo Marchant, New Scientist (UK)

“In unearthing this buried intellectual heritage, Jonathan Lyons gives us a new and important understanding of our historical and cultural relation to Islam and the Arab world… this is a well crafted, powerful account which asks us to re-examine our assumptions about East and West, a task never so necessary as now.” –Marc Lambert, Scotsman (UK)

“This is a refreshing book, one that discovers, or rediscovers, common ground between Islam and Christendom, a historical survey that reminds us that civilizations can converse as well as clash.” –Robert Cremins, Houston Chronicle