The House of Wisdom

  • by Jonathan Lyons
  • Narrated by Jay Snyder
  • 9 hrs and 40 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Here is the remarkable story of how medieval Arab scholars made dazzling advances in science and philosophy, and of the itinerant Europeans who brought this knowledge back to the West. For centuries following the fall of Rome, Western Europe was a benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflict. Meanwhile, Arab culture was thriving, dazzling those Europeans fortunate enough to catch even a glimpse of the scientific advances coming from Baghdad, Antioch, or the cities of Persia, Central Asia, and Muslim Spain. There, philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers were steadily advancing the frontiers of knowledge and revitalizing the works of Plato and Aristotle.
In the royal library of Baghdad, known as the House of Wisdom, an army of scholars worked at the behest of the Abbasid caliphs. At a time when the best book collections in Europe held several dozen volumes, the House of Wisdom boasted as many as 400,000. Even while their countrymen waged bloody Crusades against Muslims, a handful of intrepid Christian scholars, thirsty for knowledge, traveled to Arab lands and returned with priceless jewels of science, medicine, and philosophy that laid the foundation for the Renaissance.
In this brilliant, evocative book, Lyons shows just how much Western culture owes to the glories of medieval Arab civilization, and reveals the untold story of how Europe drank from the well of Muslim learning.


What the Critics Say

"Sophisticated and thoughtful... In The House of Wisdom, [Lyons] shapes his narrative around the travels of the little-known but extraordinary Adelard of Bath, an English monk who traveled to the East in the early 12th century.... Mr. Lyons's narrative is vivid and elegant." (Wall Street Journal)


See More Like This

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Missing history

I read/listened to this book at roughly the same time as God Is Not Great. In the latter, Christopher Hitchens ruminates about the disparaging influences of all religions including Islam. The House of Wisdom does not posit to argue to the contrary as some reviewers would have us believe. The book is about, and perhaps sometimes incompletely, the influence of Arab and Muslim (not always the same people) thought, discovery and invention on the West prior to the Renaissance. Such influences included advances in most fields of intellectual endeavor: astronomy, mathematics, physics, engineering, navigation, geography, medicine, architecture, chemistry and finance to mention only some. Possibly because of my Catholic education, I don't remember so much about these Middle Eastern contributions and how some of an important, historically lost people of that area transformed Western Civilization . Maybe because they were never taught. If like me you would like to learn more, here is that opportunity.

For me, this was not an easy read/listen. Lyons was a former Reuters reporter in the Middle East for over 20 years. I expected something more accessible from a reporter. Instead, I found an intellectual paragon writing of people, places, times and events as alien to me as any subject could be. How valid all of it is I do not know. But it does seem well-researched and Jonathan Lyons does not seem to be an author with an agenda other than that of enlightening his readers. The book was for me a lot like Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, a book that I enjoyed even more. If this is a subject and time that interests you and particularly if you are a fan of history, I don't think that you will be disappointed.
Read full review

- Robert


It repeats over and over the same concepts. Looks more as a collection of other books data, than a book itself. Not worthy.
Read full review

- Mario La Femina

Book Details

  • Release Date: 03-30-2010
  • Publisher: Audible Studios