Aladdin’s Lamp

How Greek Science Came to Europe through the Islamic World


John Freely


First Vintage Books edition, March 2010


Vintage ISBN: 978-0-307-27783-1



As the name of the book suggests, here we read a historical time line of how science (primarily astronomy) traveled from ancient Greece to the Muslim world in the middle ages and then back to Europe at the start of the Renaissance. Along the way we learn how unique discoveries and insight were compounded every time knowledge passed from one cultural epoch to the next. We also discover how knowledge can be temporarily (and in some cases permanently) “lost” when it failed to be translated, often serendipitously. In summary, we get a very good glimpse at how scientific knowledge evolved over the two millennia or so. The book seems to be rather comprehensive, so it soon becomes oppressive as the reader is bombarded with a prodigious number of individuals, dates, publication titles and geographical locations. If there is a scientist, philosopher, thinker or theologian who penned a scientific work, you will read about it in a very condensed format. With just over 250 pages of text, this book can quickly become indigestible unless the reader is thoroughly caffeinated. It made me wonder whether a dramatis personae would have been helpful for this book. That said, the first three chapters, which are devoted to introduce the astronomical phenomena first observed by the early astronomers, are masterfully written and clearly explain how they work, diagrams included.