For centuries following the fall of Rome, Western Europe was backward and benighted, locked into the Dark Ages and barely able to tell the time of day. Augustine had decreed that belief, not reason, should be the guiding light of Christian thinking and partially as a result Europeans lived in a world of nominal literacy and subsistence farming, where blind faith, superstition and sorcery took the place of medicine, and the church harnessed nascent aggression among the kingdoms to its own ends in the pursuit of astonishingly violent and cruel holy wars - the Crusades. Arab culture, however, was thriving, and had become a powerhouse of intellectual exploration and discussion that dazzled the likes of Adelard of Bath who ventured to the Near East in search of the scientific riches pouring out of cities like Antioch or Baghdad, whose House of Wisdom held four hundred thousand books at a time when the best European libraries housed, at most, several dozen.
The Arabs could measure the earth's circumference, a feat not matched in the West for eight hundred years; they discovered algebra; were adept at astronomy and navigation, developed the astrolabe, translated all the Greek scientific and philosophical texts including, importantly, those of Aristotle; they made paper lenses and mirrors. Without them, and the knowledge that travellers like Adelard brought back to the West, Europe would in all likelihood have been a very different place over the last millennium. In this fascinating and thoughtful book Jonathan Lyons restores credit to the Arab thinkers of the past, explores and reveals the extent of their learning and describes the intrepid adventures of those who went in search of it and who, in doing so, laid the foundations of what we now call the Renaissance.
Author and journalist Jonathan Lyons has spent his professional and personal life exploring the shifting boundaries between East and West. After more than 20 years as an editor and foreign correspondent for Reuters, he is now a researcher at the Global Terrorism Research Centre and a PhD candidate in sociology of religion at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. In the late 1980s, Lyons moved to Turkey where he was Reuters' bureau chief for four and a half years. In 1998, Lyons moved to Tehran and reopened the Reuters bureau, which had been closed by the authorities thirteen years earlier. He then worked for five years in Reuters' Washington office, before taking up his last foreign assignment in Jakarta in 2006 covering radical Islamic movements across Southeast Asia. He has a BA with Honours in Russian and History from Wesleyan university and was a Fellow at Columbia University's Harriman Institute of Soviet Studies. He also studied at the Pushkin Institute of Russian language in Moscow.