The House Of Wisdom by Jonathan Lyons is a book written about how the west was transformed by muslim learning. Lyons intention in writing this book was to track where the scientific revolution of the west europeans came from. The thesis of this book is if many western scientific concepts originate with the arabs then why aren’t the arabs more celebrated for there far superior intellect to the western europeans.
Jonathan Lyons was an editor and foreign correspondent for the muslim world – for Reuters. He now works as a researcher of global terrorism and is a Phd candidate for sociology in religion. His background with arabs makes him very qualified for this type of writing and yet also may give him a bias towards the arabs intelect. This bias may have caused him to overwrite the Arabs intellect and civility. Through overwriting the qualities of the Arabs he simultaneously underwrites the Christians values
The authors argument describes how the western europeans who despite being portrayed as intelligent were really savages who learned from the far superior, far more intellectual arabs. He strives to uncover the true origin of the renaissance. He describes the house of wisdom as a place of open-mindedness and knowledge. He then questions the reader on how such a close-minded egocentric people like the western Europeans could begin to grasp this knowledge when they had none of it to begin with.
Lyons develops this thesis first through the story of the crusades and the close-minded christians and their savagery. On the subject of their savagery the author quotes Raymond of Saint-Gilles when he says “Suffice it to say that, in the Temple and Porch of Solomon, men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins”(Lyons 23). Next he compares the christians ignorance to the arabs intellect through such tools as astrolabes or calendars. He does this by explaining the christians lack of understanding how they could not even understand ptolemy’s simple explanation of time. He explains how instead of an advancement of knowledge within europe their knowledge actually decreased to the point little to no literacy and no regard for learning. Christianity had pushed Europe into a ignorant era. Lyons then goes on to praise the Muslim intelect using a quote from a man visiting Baghdad Lyons writes “No one is better educated than their scholars, better informed than their authorities in tradition … more eloquent than their preachers”(Lyons 61). Then the author describes the figures who helped to learn from the arabs such as Adelard of Bath, Frederick Ⅱ, and Robert Grosseteste.
Lyons as a foreign correspondent has a bias towards the arab world making him more prone to lean towards their ideas as superior to the Western Europeans. Though he uses facts to analyze this learning he does show a bias towards the arabs in that he portrays them as very tolerant of others and their knowledge when in fact all of the abrahamic religions are very close-minded. Through the praise of the Arabs and their advanced way he also happens to put down the Europeans saying things like “ In the case of the Franks, their northerly province also made them unstable. Other notable qualities included profligate sexuality, a lack of jealousy, and a general propensity for violence” (Lyons 15).
He exaggerates both sides the western Europeans as primitive savages and the Arabs as incredibly intelligent and mild. In writing this book the author expects his reader to have a basic understanding of astrology and the medieval ages. The author uses this book to represent a progression within Europe stemming from the Arabs which despite said progression tend to be a step ahead intellectually. The authors progressionary philosophy causes him to portray europe as very primitive in the beginning and slightly more advanced by the end but still not to the point that it competes with the achievements of the muslims.
The House Of Wisdom is a very straightforwardly written book the author does not pause for wit, he instead focuses on the information. His word choice and sentence structure is advanced at the cost of readability. This book took a long time to get through because reading ten pages with very advanced concepts and structure was tiring. The author used many different support materials in order to keep the reader engaged such as: A timeline at the beginning of the book, pictures on astrolabes, an index, and even a description of the fount used in the book. This book is on an interesting topic and yet the author does not attempt to help the reader through the heavy information the book contains. The intended audience is academic as it has cited academic sources and lacks the entertainment for popular history.
Lyons through the use of The House Of Wisdom explains the muslims wealth of information and corrects the original thoughts on both peoples. Instead of being self reliant for knowledge as shown by many authors prior to Lyons, he shows the Europeans as dependent upon the Arabs for knowledge. I would recommend this book to scholars attempting to track the flow of knowledge into Europe. I would also recommend this book to those interested in the culture of Islam as this book does describe unique parts of their culture such as the caliphs role in society.
- Lyons, Jonathan. The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization. Bloomsbury, 2010.