Summary

In this rich and sweeping 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 presented in a lively and accessible style, this is a book that will surprise general listeners and specialists alike.
PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your My Library section along with the audio.
©2013 Princeton University Press (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By The Village Green on 04-05-15

An enlightening listen

A superb magnum opus that details the rise, apogee and fall of the Central Asian enlightenment. A particular must for those keen to understand some of the leading characters that shaped the Muslim world in both science, logic and Islamic doctrine (both a catalyst for the enlightenment and a cause in its demise). My favourite bit? Almost certainly the author's adept handling of biographical detail and his analysis of the decline, the implications of which we are still living with. The narration was good, although my one slight criticism would concern the levels at which they recorded the narrator. Sometimes it sounds a little bit compressed.

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2 of 2 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Jim on 23-11-13

Fascinating, surprising and beautifully written

As a fan of popular history it's always a treat to discover a time and place that have been previously under-reported. A massively influential culture of scientific, philosophical, literary, theological and architectural inquiry springs up from the 8th Century to around the fall of Constantinople in a part of the world that is now largely a lawless backwater - Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. The ideas and techniques they create have a significant impact on the development of world culture, for instance, Al-Khwarizmi's maths is so sophisticated that we still garble his name when we use an "algorithm". There's so much fascinating detail to pack in that this could have become dry or overwhelming but Starr holds our interest throughout by focusing on both the incredibly interesting characters and the astonishingly advanced work they did. It's also very well narrated. A real treat.

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5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
5 out of 5 stars
By Julia on 10-11-13

What a wonderful find!

Would you listen to Lost Enlightenment again? Why?

I've listened to it more than once and will be listening again.

What did you like best about this story?

The rich, personal and true to the moment exchanges between the people who created history. It's possible to have a dialog with a book and this is one of the best examples I've ever read on how someone can have as a mentor someone hundreds of years in the past.

Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

The most gut wrenching moment for me was the author's candid, frank and short explanation of why this period produced no women who were great lights. This came early in the book and in it explained how so much learning never passed out of the courts and to the common people.

Any additional comments?

I hope to find more of the source material and read it, then return and read this book again.

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12 of 12 people found this review helpful

5 out of 5 stars
By Hilton on 30-04-14

Impressively follows up an interesting claim

What made the experience of listening to Lost Enlightenment the most enjoyable?

Mr. Starr paints a very interesting picture of Central Asia (say, modernly, eastern Iran through the -stan countries and western China) and for very many centuries. He does not fail his claim that the region has a "Lost Enlightenment." The numerous parallels to the better known European Enlightenment are most striking: right down to the Brethren of Purity as a rough counterpart to the 18th century Masons (my comparison, not his). The huge debt which world civilization would seem to owe the nowadays-obscure region is most impressive. And at any rate you can be confident it's a good read if you did click for pre-modern Central Asia with any idea that the subject could interest you.

What did you like best about this story?

It's always particularly titillating to learn about a time and place you know little about.I'd wonder that any Central Asian specialists browse the book on audible, so I think it's sure to be fresh to anyone who might hear it.

Have you listened to any of Kevin Stillwell’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

I had not heard Mr. Stillwell before. I thought his intonation was maybe the slightest bit idiosyncratic in how often it gave a questioning lilt, but it certainly wasn't anything objectionable: endearing after a while, even.

Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

I think this question disregards the length of the work. I listened to it without listening to anything else.

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8 of 8 people found this review helpful

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