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Lost Enlightenment

Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

S. Frederick Starr

$42.99

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Princeton University Pres
30 July 2015
In this sweeping and richly illustrated history, S. Frederick Starr tells the fascinating but largely unknown story of Central Asia's medieval enlightenment through the eventful lives and astonishing accomplishments of its greatest minds - remarkable figures who built a bridge to the modern world. Because nearly all of these figures wrote in Arabic, they were long assumed to have been Arabs. In fact, they were from Central Asia - drawn from the Persianate and Turkic peoples of a region that today extends from Kazakhstan southward through Afghanistan, and from the easternmost province of Iran through Xinjiang, China.

Lost Enlightenment recounts how, between the years 800 and 1200, Central Asia led the world in trade and economic development, the size and sophistication of its cities, the refinement of its arts, and, above all, in the advancement of knowledge in many fields. Central Asians achieved signal breakthroughs in astronomy, mathematics, geology, medicine, chemistry, music, social science, philosophy, and theology, among other subjects.  They gave algebra its name, calculated the earth's diameter with unprecedented precision, wrote the books that later defined European medicine, and penned some of the world's greatest poetry. One scholar, working in Afghanistan, even predicted the existence of North and South America - five centuries before Columbus. Rarely in history has a more impressive group of polymaths appeared at one place and time. No wonder that their writings influenced European culture from the time of St. Thomas Aquinas down to the scientific revolution, and had a similarly deep impact in India and much of Asia.

Lost Enlightenment chronicles this forgotten age of achievement, seeks to explain its rise, and explores the competing theories about the cause of its eventual demise. Informed by the latest scholarship yet written in a lively and accessible style, this is a book that will surprise general readers and specialists alike.
By:   S. Frederick Starr
Imprint:   Princeton University Pres
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 152mm,  Spine: 41mm
Weight:   936g
ISBN:   9780691165851
ISBN 10:   0691165858
Pages:   680
Publication Date:   30 July 2015
Audience:   General/trade ,  College/higher education ,  ELT Advanced ,  Primary
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active
List of Illustrations ix Preface xiii Dramatis Personae xxi Chronology xxxi Chapter 1 The Center of the World 1 Chapter 2 Worldly Urbanists, Ancient Land 28 Chapter 3 A Cauldron of Skills, Ideas, and Faiths 62 Chapter 4 How Arabs Conquered Central Asia and Central Asia Then Set the Stage to Conquer Baghdad 101 Chapter 5 East Wind over Baghdad 126 Chapter 6 Wandering Scholars 156 Chapter 7 Khurasan: Central Asia's Rising Star 194 Chapter 8 A Flowering of Central Asia: The Samanid Dynasty 225 Chapter 9 A Moment in the Desert: Gurganj under the Mamuns 267 Chapter 10 Turks Take the Stage: Mahmud of Kashgar and Yusuf of Balasagun 303 Chapter 11 Culture under a Turkic Marauder: Mahmud's Ghazni 332 Chapter 12 Tremors under the Dome of Seljuk Rule 381 Chapter 13 The Mongol Century 436 Chapter 14 Tamerlane and His Successors 478 Chapter 15 Retrospective: The Sand and the Oyster 515 Notes 541 Index 611

S. Frederick Starr is founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute & Silk Road Studies Program, a research and policy center affiliated with the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm. A past president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute, he began his career in classical archaeology, excavating at Gordium in modern Turkey and mapping the Persian Royal Road.

Reviews for Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age from the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane

The true value of the book is that it presents comprehensively collated data and sources, amalgamated in chronological order, about the history, culture, material life and sciences in mediaeval Central Asia, pre- and post-Islamisation. Furthermore, the author's reasoning for the rise and decline of Central Asia's Enlightenment is nothing short of impeccably convincing. Finally, based on the author's arguments, one may come to appreciate the value of mediaeval Central Asia as a model for the modern world. --Peter Nicolaus, Iran and the Caucasus This book is a must-read for those wanting to understand the development of this vast region of the world and the cultural and religious tides that gave rise to the conflicts we face today. --Carl G. Schuster, Explorers Journal In the book Lost Enlightenment, historian S. Frederick Starr chronicles the long tradition of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and literary intellectuals that flourished in the Iranian- and Turkish-speaking regions of Central Asia. --Noah Smith, Bloomberg View This book does a marvelous job of highlighting the contributions of medieval intellectuals from Central Asia to the history of world civilizations. . . . It is a very informative and readable book. --Richard Foltz, Fezana Journal This favorable account of Central Asia's intellectual life will enhance any reader's perception of Central Asia and challenge further investigation. --Isenbike Togan, Bogazici Journal Starr undertakes a daunting task--the intellectual history of Central Asia through the medieval period. Happily, he succeeds. . . . Starr's book is thorough and well researched, and includes ample supplemental material and sources, so that even novice students will find it instructive and useful without being overwhelming. --Choice Lost Enlightenment is a most amazing book, one with--if we are lucky--the potential to shape global public thinking for decades ahead. . . . Lost Enlightenment is an entirely readable, informative and even entertaining book. Although it might surely serve as an inspiration to the modern inhabitants of Central Asia, it should also serve as a warning to any modern nation and civilization that it is tempted to intolerance. --Dimitry Chen, Asian Review of Books In this graceful, luxuriant history, Starr recovers the stunning contributions of Central Asia scientists, architects, artists, engineers, and historians during the four centuries that began just before the Arab onslaught of the eight century and lasted until the Mongol siege in the thirteenth century. . . . 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. --Foreign Affairs Starr is that rare scholar with the horsepower to write about the medieval culture of this vast region that is bounded by Persia to the west, and China to the east, and India to the southeast. . . . An indispensable title for scholars, this lively study should prove equally compelling to serious lay readers with an interest in Arabic and medieval thought. --Library Journal, starred review Starr argues rightly that the region's brilliant culture rested on a highly cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups, languages and religions; a long, rich pre-Islamic intellectual tradition (mainly Buddhist); and prosperity. . . . Starr shines in his core chapters, where he presents the great achievements of the Central Asian philosopher-scientists at a time when their homeland was the creative intellectual capital of the world. --Nature Lost Enlightenment is a remarkable and accessible scholarly tour de force. --David Morgan, Times Literary Supplement Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American PublishersOne of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014 Honorable Mention for the 2013 PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American Publishers One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014 A fantastic book. --President Ashraf Ghani of Afghanistan Lost Enlightenment is a remarkable and accessible scholarly tour de force. --David Morgan, Times Literary Supplement Starr argues rightly that the region's brilliant culture rested on a highly cosmopolitan mix of ethnic groups, languages and religions; a long, rich pre-Islamic intellectual tradition (mainly Buddhist); and prosperity... Starr shines in his core chapters, where he presents the great achievements of the Central Asian philosopher-scientists at a time when their homeland was the creative intellectual capital of the world. --Nature Starr is that rare scholar with the horsepower to write about the medieval culture of this vast region that is bounded by Persia to the west, and China to the east, and India to the southeast... An indispensable title for scholars, this lively study should prove equally compelling to serious lay readers with an interest in Arabic and medieval thought. --Library Journal, starred review In this graceful, luxuriant history, Starr recovers the stunning contributions of Central Asia scientists, architects, artists, engineers, and historians during the four centuries that began just before the Arab onslaught of the eight century and lasted until the Mongol siege in the thirteenth century... 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. --Foreign Affairs Lost Enlightenment is a most amazing book, one with--if we are lucky--the potential to shape global public thinking for decades ahead... Lost Enlightenment is an entirely readable, informative and even entertaining book. Although it might surely serve as an inspiration to the modern inhabitants of Central Asia, it should also serve as a warning to any modern nation and civilization that it is tempted to intolerance. --Dimitry Chen, Asian Review of Books Starr undertakes a daunting task--the intellectual history of Central Asia through the medieval period. Happily, he succeeds... Starr's book is thorough and well researched, and includes ample supplemental material and sources, so that even novice students will find it instructive and useful without being overwhelming. --Choice This favorable account of Central Asia's intellectual life will enhance any reader's perception of Central Asia and challenge further investigation. --Isenbike Togan, Bogazici Journal This book does a marvelous job of highlighting the contributions of medieval intellectuals from Central Asia to the history of world civilizations... It is a very informative and readable book. --Richard Foltz, Fezana Journal In the book Lost Enlightenment, historian S. Frederick Starr chronicles the long tradition of scientists, mathematicians, engineers and literary intellectuals that flourished in the Iranian- and Turkish-speaking regions of Central Asia. --Noah Smith, Bloomberg View This book is a must-read for those wanting to understand the development of this vast region of the world and the cultural and religious tides that gave rise to the conflicts we face today. --Carl G. Schuster, Explorers Journal


  • Commended for PROSE Award in European and World History, Association of American Publishers 2013
  • Commended for PROSE Awards: European and World History 2013
  • Commended for PROSE Awards: European and World History 2013.
  • Short-listed for Choice 's Outstanding Academic Titles 2014
  • Short-listed for Choice Magazine Outstanding Reference/Academic Book Award 2014
  • Shortlisted for Choice Magazine Outstanding Reference/Academic Book Award 2014.

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