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

Furthermore, while Central Asia’s urban centers were, as Starr illustrates, already occupied with science to a certain degree, it was not until after the Arab conquests that it started to boom. Saying that these lands were open to new ideas is not enough to explain the sudden burgeoning into an actual movement, a movement that stretched from Andalusia to the borders of China. While many of the great thinkers of this Golden Age were indeed from Central Asia, one must not forget that a great many other were not. Many places that were once devoid of science, became its biggest centers. Completely separating this movement from Islamic/pious motives would be a grave injustice indeed.

This book tells the magnificent tale of the spread of knowledge and the development of sciences in Central Asia during what is commonly known as the ‘Islamic Golden Age,’ roughly starting with the rise of the Abbasid Dynasty and ending after the Tamerlane’s reign. It aims to deal with three questions mainly: 1) What did Central Asian scientists, philosophers, etc. achieve during this period? 2) Why did this happen? 3) What happened to this movement? Starr deals with these questions throughout the fifteen chapters that make up this book. The author himself felt compelled to write this book not because he knew the answers, or was an expert on the field (he is, in fact, an archeologist), but because no one had up until then produced a work dealing with these questions and thus he tried to fill this void himself (p. xv).

In the first chapter of the book, “Introducing the Players,” Starr explains his methodology by discussing which questions he will be dealing and not dealing with and why, while briefly illustrating the main characters and the scene as a sort of guideline to what is yet to come in this book. The second chapter, “Worldly Urbanists, Ancient Land,” shows the reader how the now rather barren lands that make up Central Asia were once the home of highly urbanized centers of great wealth and bustling trade. He calls this civilization an “intensive,” “hydraulic civilization” (a term coined by Karl Wittfogel), because of its almost complete dependence on water and it’s strict organization around water due to its scarcity (p. 37).

The third chapter illustrates how these rich cities formed the perfect base for the (further) development of sciences throughout the Islamic Golden Age, as they constituted a “cross roads civilization” (p. 69), i.e. a civilization made up of elements of many different civilizations such as the Indian, Persian and Chinese, mixed with a tad of Greek and Nomadic, and reformed into a ne

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