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Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World    by John Freely order for
Aladdin's Lamp
by John Freely
Order:  USA  Can
Knopf, 2009 (2009)
Hardcover, e-Book

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* *   Reviewed by Alex Telander

John Freely takes on a subject already familiar to him, having written books on Istanbul, Turkey, Crete, and a good portion of Asia Minor. In Aladdin's Lamp he goes into great detail, revealing how we are today able to enjoy the Greek classics of Plato, Homer, and many others. While the book at times takes on an almost classroom-like routine with chapter after chapter of fairly dry information, Aladdin's Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World nevertheless offers a very interesting look at the history of the classics and how they survived.

Freely begins at the beginning, perhaps going on for a little too long, but clearly relishing telling the reader about some of the great works of the Greeks (including the likes of Archimedes, Plato, and Pythagoras), and what it is they found out in a time when science was very new. While on the one hand these were some amazing people who were able to come up with standards of architecture and a surprisingly close approximation of the circumference of the Earth, I would have preferred less emphasis on these beginnings and more on the later fate of the Greek texts.

The first third of the book done, Freely finally moves into the Islamic world, portraying Baghdad as an important center that flourished with culture and literature. He shows how a number of circumstances - and the constant mixing of peoples with trade throughout the Western World - led to the preservation (and later translation) of the valuable Greek texts after the fall of Rome and then the Byzantine world.

While the information may be overwhelming at times and Freely lacks in a certain storytelling quality that can make nonfiction more enjoyable, Aladdin's Lamp does provide insight into the turbulent times of the early Middle Ages, when civilizations and countries rose and fell within what seems in retrospect the blink of an eye, while culture and literature and science was kept safe at times in secret to be read and enjoyed by future generations.

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