The House of Wisdom, By Jonathan Lyons

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The Independent Culture

Jonathan Lyons dedicates his book – an account of "How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization" – to his father, who introduced him "to the power of ideas". In its pages, key ideas which shape our world are passionately explored – how they originated and their influence and legacy.

There are ideas about time (how to tell the time of day), about space (how to measure the Earth's circumference), and ideas about ideas themselves (Arabs translated the seminal Greek philosophical and scientific texts). Does the universe have a beginning, middle and end, as written in the Bible and the Koran, or is it eternal and not subject to change? The world suddenly seemed an unfamiliar place to adventurers such as Adelard of Bath, who engaged with and brought back to the West questions that Arab thinkers, struggling to fit a monotheistic faith into changing notions of the universe, had wrestled with for centuries.

The significance of Arab ideas, Lyons argues, has been overlooked due to the West's "wilful forgetting" of the Arab legacy. But there is no danger of forgetting the vivid images and arguments in this learned, evocative study.

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