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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age From the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

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Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane
By S. Frederick Starr
Princeton University Press, 2013
696 pp. $39.50
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In this graceful, luxuriant history, Starr recovers the stunning contributions of Central Asian scientists, architects, artists, engineers, and historians during the four centuries that began just before the Arab onslaught of the eighth century and lasted until the Mongol siege in the thirteenth century, a period when this now inglorious region was “the intellectual hub of the world.” From this creative caldron came breakthroughs in astronomy that would later guide Christopher Columbus (and that anticipated the existence of the Americas seven centuries before his voyage); medical advances that would shape Renaissance European medicine and even a version of medicine practiced to this day in India; and remarkable achievements in optics, anthropology, mathematics, and geology. Starr focuses on the genius polymaths who dominated the era, stressing their diverse origins, which were related to Persian and Turkic culture as much as to Arabic culture. In the process, he highlights the importance of those Central Asian roots, which have long been glossed over by historians. The book offers a lucid exploration of the era’s intricate philosophical and theological debates and a succinct depiction of its poetry and art, enhanced by many illustrations.

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