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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden…
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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to…

by S. Frederick Starr

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Absolutely outstanding. The other reviewers have said it all. ( )
  pbjwelch | Jul 25, 2017 |
Okay the maps are too few and bad. But the text is illuminating and clear. there are a few descents into folksiness like"Tamerlane and his hearties", but this is an important book. the author has the right end of the stick. Diversity on all levels, of religion, cultural norms, economic level, and political entities creates, mental clarity and impels the accumulation of knowledge in all its forms, scientific, artistic, and religious. Without dissent, and experiment we humans dwindle and eventually lose our ability to cope with our environment.
From 660 CE to 1450 CE the history of the intellectual community in The Central Asian Merry-go-round is laid out. There are heroes, such as ibn Sina and Biruni and the villainous al- Ghazali who closed down the wonderful show. From the origin of Zoroastrian religion in the 500's BCE to the invasion of Genghis Khan in 1220 CE, this area was in the forefront of intellectual ferment than brightened the whole world. The cause was the wonderful diversity created in an area whose struggle to maintain agriculture led to the cultivation of thought, and then whose high level of cross-fertilization of thought ellevated the world after the collapse of the Roman Empire. What is normally taken as Arabic Culture was in fact the Central Asian culture being written in Arabic as part of its ongoing journey.
Then, in the 1100's CE, the rise of the religious right powered by a devastating critique by al-Ghazali, a very gifted polemicist "The Incoherence of the Philosophers" led to the closing down of speculative thought first in Central Asia, and then in the Arabic West. The triumph of the Hanbalic traditional Islam and its Madrassa system "settled" questions of how Islam dealt with those niggling anomalies that, in Europe led to the Scientific revolution. It also closed off the growth of political diversity in favour of despotism, and exploration into complex capitalism, and physical art, such as the theatre. it was in European terms, the triumph of the Catholic counter reformation being complete with the end of Science in favour of revelation, history in favour of dogmatism, and despotism in instead of the growth of democracy, and Thomas Acquinas being the last word in religion. Forever.
The arguments are supported by four hundred pages of narrative history, and then ninety pages of good analysis.
For North Americans facing the triumph of the religious right, and the anti-intellectualism of the new century, this is a book deserving of close study, for this how a major light of civilization was snuffed out.
Diversity is progress, and knowledge is power. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jan 18, 2017 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691157731, Hardcover)

In this sweeping and richly illustrated history, S. Frederick Starr tells the fascinating but largely unknown story of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment through the eventful lives and astonishing accomplishments of its greatest minds--remarkable figures who built a bridge to the modern world. Because nearly all of these figures wrote in Arabic, they were long assumed to have been Arabs. In fact, they were from Central Asia--drawn from the Persianate and Turkic peoples of a region that today extends from Kazakhstan southward through Afghanistan, and from the easternmost province of Iran through Xinjiang, China.

Lost Enlightenment recounts how, between the years 800 and 1200, Central Asia led the world in trade and economic development, the size and sophistication of its cities, the refinement of its arts, and, above all, in the advancement of knowledge in many fields. Central Asians achieved signal breakthroughs in astronomy, mathematics, geology, medicine, chemistry, music, social science, philosophy, and theology, among other subjects. They gave algebra its name, calculated the earth's diameter with unprecedented precision, wrote the books that later defined European medicine, and penned some of the world's greatest poetry. One scholar, working in Afghanistan, even predicted the existence of North and South America--five centuries before Columbus. Rarely in history has a more impressive group of polymaths appeared at one place and time. No wonder that their writings influenced European culture from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas down to the scientific revolution, and had a similarly deep impact in India and much of Asia.

Lost Enlightenment chronicles this forgotten age of achievement, seeks to explain its rise, and explores the competing theories about the cause of its eventual demise. Informed by the latest scholarship yet written in a lively and accessible style, this is a book that will surprise general readers and specialists alike.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:35 -0400)

In this sweeping and richly illustrated history, S. Frederick Starr tells the fascinating but largely unknown story of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment through the eventful lives and astonishing accomplishments of its greatest minds--remarkable figures who built a bridge to the modern world. Because nearly all of these figures wrote in Arabic, they were long assumed to have been Arabs. In fact, they were from Central Asia--drawn from the Persianate and Turkic peoples of a region that today extends from Kazakhstan southward through Afghanistan, and from the easternmost province of Iran through Xinjiang, China. Lost Enlightenment recounts how, between the years 800 and 1200, Central Asia led the world in trade and economic development, the size and sophistication of its cities, the refinement of its arts, and, above all, in the advancement of knowledge in many fields. -- Publisher website.… (more)

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