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The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the…

The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades

by Usama ibn Munqidh

Other authors: Paul M. Cobb (Editor and Translator)

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Usama is a great teller of anecdotes. Let me stress the fun side of this book. I notice Penguin have dropped the first title on my copy, A Book of Contemplation. He may have jotted down these anecdotes in an arrangement that can be pretended to exhibit the 'inscrutability of fate' in human life -- but that just means he collects eye-witness, as often as not his own, on incidents bizarre, unusual or otherwise worthy of remark.

If you like fighting tales -- and I know a few of you do -- he gives, on a page or two pages, those both strange and true.

The Franks feature, but he isn't writing about them. If you're after an Arab source with views of Franks, it's perhaps more precious for not being self-consciously about Franks.

A treasure, and you can just dip in, a lucky dip, each tale is titled to whet your curiosity. I valued the real-life fighting incidents in Joinville's Crusade account, but that has only glimpses next to this. ( )
  Jakujin | Mar 13, 2015 |
This book is marketed as a Muslim perspective on the Frankish invasions of the 12 century (i.e. the Crusades). There is certainly much in it about specific battles against the Christian invaders, but it's very much an "on the ground" perspective. It's no survey text. But if you've read your Steven Runciman first (or your Christopher Tyerman) you can distinguish the various battles and periods of advance and retreat, and the writer's engagement with the major players of that time. But the book is much more than just a commentary on the Crusades. Usama ibn Munqidh led this astonishing life as part of a rich Arab aristocracy. We get not only his view of the battles against the "Franks," as the invading westerners were known, but also the battles he was involved in against his Arab brothers. For this was an era of reigning municipalities reminiscent of the Greek city states around the time of the Peloponnesian War, and there was frequent conflict. There's an especially vivid sequence of hunting tales from his youth in and around his hometown Shayzar. I had trepidations when I noticed that the hunting stories were next, but they are in many ways the most fascinating stories in the book. He and his father hunted with hawk, peregrine and cheetah. The tales are deeply moving. Munqidh's father would sleep with the cheetah in his room. That's how close he was to this animal. There are also episodes of lion hunting, or rather extermination, for such an animal close to populated areas was always a threat. There are also these incredibly moving reflections on old age. Munqidh lived to be over 90. And there is 2 or 3 pages of thoughtful commentary on the loss of vitality and stamina at that age. The book has a non-linear timeline. In one vignette Usama is a lad on his pony following his father on the hunt. In another, in middle-age, he's marching in service to Nur al-Din, one of the great Arab military minds and long-time lord of Damascus. I highly recommend this astonishing book for all readers with an interest in the medieval Middle East. Like all good stories it holds one to the end. ( )
2 vote Brasidas | May 16, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Usama ibn Munqidhprimary authorall editionscalculated
Cobb, Paul M.Editor and Translatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140455132, Paperback)

The Crusades as seen through the eyes of Muslims

A SIGNIFICANT CONTRIBUTION to the understanding of the medieval holy wars between Christians and Muslims, this volume brings together the best and most complete eyewitness account of the Crusades from the perspective of a medieval Muslim writer. Focusing on twelfth-century Arab aristocrat Usama ibn Munqidh?s Book of Contemplation but also including extracts from The Book of the Staff and Kernels of Refinement, this volume offers a strikingly human portrayal of I slamic perspectives on day-to-day existence, warfare, and the curious European invaders.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:45 -0400)

"This book contains the autobiographical works of Usama ibn Munqidh, a twelfth-century Arab aristocrat. Full of detail, wit and melancholy, Usama's narrative anecdotes illustrate the inscrutability of God's will in life, as well as providing a memorable record of Islam's long encounter with the Crusaders, known to Usama only as the Franks. This edition focuses on The Book of Contemplation, but also uses extracts from The Book of the Staff and Kernels of Refinement to produce a complete and human portrayal of Islamic perspectives on day-to-day existence, warfare, and the curious European invaders." "Paul M. Cobb's translation is accompanied by an introduction that places Usama's writings in their historical and literary context, explains the poetry of his language and examines the divisions between Islamic sects at the time. This edition also contains maps, a chronology of the author's life, a family tree, suggested further reading and a glossary."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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