Oh hey, it’s been awhile. The effect of living in the age of Covid continues to manifest itself in an inability to read or enjoy things that I used to, which means this took awhile to read (good ol’ 500+ pages of history).
Regardless, what a stunningly awesome book. All throughout it I was just wishing for some central asian sci-fi/ftantasy novels to be written and/or translated so I can read the fictionalisation of some of the amazing figures discussed in this book.
In short, the book looks at the period of Central Asian history of greatest scientific and other enquiry, taking us on an amazing voyage across a huge breadth of time and geography. I now have a bunch of other people I want to read about, mainly skeptics and potential outright atheists from the 9th to 11th centuries, who sound GREAT.
This book I think is much better than The Silk Roads, as it doesn’t have such a grand thesis, but rather focusses on a different intellectual threads through out them, up until basically the 14th century. My only critique being that there are so few women in the entire book. With a somewhat lazy explanation I think (religion). I think we need a Mary Beard to do a version of SPQR and look for the traces of all the women and non-elites.
My overriding feeling at the end of reading the books was that I felt cheated by my historical education. Some of the people mentioned come through in the Western History cannon (with their latinised names) but it’s so much deeper than that. The transmission of ideas, even just the translation of Ancient Greek and Roman texts into Arabic and then back again just astonishes me. I think I vaguely knew this, but I think the richness of that transmission of ideas was left out of my education. It really missed a trick there.
Anyway, if you want to read something completely different, and of enormous interest, I do highly recommend this read. The only problem I have now is wanting to go to Iran and Afghanistan (among others) to see some of the archeological remains of all these civilisation sand empires. Probably gonna have to wait a bit though.