Hot Best Seller

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography

Availability: Ready to download

The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world--a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world--a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, is not as well known as he should be, and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this groundbreaking intellectual biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun's extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas. Irwin tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. Closely examining the Muqaddima, a startlingly original analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin shows how Ibn Khaldun's life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Because Ibn Khaldun's ideas often seem to anticipate by centuries developments in many fields, he has often been depicted as more of a modern man than a medieval one, and Irwin's account of such misreadings provides new insights about the history of Orientalism.In contrast, Irwin presents an Ibn Khaldun who was a creature of his time—a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.


Compare

The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world--a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world--a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, is not as well known as he should be, and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this groundbreaking intellectual biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun's extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas. Irwin tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. Closely examining the Muqaddima, a startlingly original analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin shows how Ibn Khaldun's life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Because Ibn Khaldun's ideas often seem to anticipate by centuries developments in many fields, he has often been depicted as more of a modern man than a medieval one, and Irwin's account of such misreadings provides new insights about the history of Orientalism.In contrast, Irwin presents an Ibn Khaldun who was a creature of his time—a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.

30 review for Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    Murtaza

    Ibn Khaldun was not a historian or philosopher in the way that we think of such terms today. While he charted the rise and fall of dynasties and attempted to explain the mechanics of cyclical history, his histories were fundamentally moralistic in nature. In his view, the main reason to study the past was to extract moral lessons from it which can be used to guide human beings towards the path of salvation. Such an understanding of history and the natural world is the basis of the traditional Ibn Khaldun was not a historian or philosopher in the way that we think of such terms today. While he charted the rise and fall of dynasties and attempted to explain the mechanics of cyclical history, his histories were fundamentally moralistic in nature. In his view, the main reason to study the past was to extract moral lessons from it which can be used to guide human beings towards the path of salvation. Such an understanding of history and the natural world is the basis of the traditional Islamic understanding of empirical study in general. Studying worldly things is done with the ultimate goal of guiding moral behavior, rather than making life easier for its own sake. Logic and rationality are tools that have their place, but they are not ends in themselves and are ultimately subordinated to worship and submission to a transcendent order, within which mankind must understand its place. Rather than positing Ibn Khaldun as a proto-Marx or Montesquieu, in this book Robert Irwin refreshingly manages to take him on his own terms as someone whose worldview was very different from later modern thinkers. Ibn Khaldun was a stern religious conservative, a Sufi who believed in metaphysical causes and explanations for phenomena, and someone who studied and practiced what we might today refer to as “occult sciences,” along with his empirical works. He studied dream interpretation, believed in spirits and divination and subordinated his empirical study of societies to its place within the divine order. In other words, he thought about the world quite differently than a modern sociologist. Much of what Ibn Khaldun wrote about morality and the rise and fall of dynasties is of timeless value, while much else seems strange and archaic to us as at least at the present moment. Ibn Khaldun lived in North Africa during the time of the Black Death, growing up around the ruins of the departed Carthaginian and Roman empires. During his lifetime the great Arab empires had seemingly been eclipsed by Turks and Berbers. Ibn Khaldun’s understanding of the world was thus deeply pessimistic, as most cyclical histories tend to be. Growing up around ruins tends to focus the mind on the ultimately futile and transient nature of all worldly endeavor. As such it’s hard to see how Ibn Khaldun can be characterized as the progenitor of later Enlightenment thinkers, with their belief in the ultimate perfectibility of mankind and the social order. While this is not a biography in a straightforward sense, it was fascinating to read of Ibn Khaldun’s encounters with historical figures such as Tamerlane, whom he seems to have admired as a virile barbarian conqueror. Ibn Khaldun had a hard life by our standards, his wife and children dying in a shipwreck and he himself being the target of much intellectual sniping and jealousy from his peers. It’s not clear how much this fazed him however, since according to the norms of the time none of his writings were very self-revelatory or reflective of his personal feelings. By the accounts of others he was an arrogant and haughty man, though in his defense he seemed to have much to be arrogant about. Its sobering to read of Ibn Khaldun’s study of ancient thinkers like Galen and al-Jahiz, figures that were as ancient to him than he is to us. His study of classical antiquity is even more impressive given how difficult it was to undertake. Like most medieval Islamic thinkers Ibn Khaldun held Aristotle in high regard, but he also seems to have consumed some works by him that were actually written by other impostors. Likewise, despite his skepticism towards the mystical philosopher Ibn Arabi, he appears to have read some works falsely attributed to him. This was a pre-modern version of “fake news” that appears to have been common at the time. It reminds me of the (real) Aristotle’s famous quote, “Great men may make great mistakes.” The book makes a powerful point that the modern renaissance of interest in Ibn Khaldun in the Muslim world was largely made possible by European Orientalist study of him. The Arabs forgot Ibn Khaldun not long after his death. He was later discovered with interest by the Ottoman Turks and again by the Europeans. In the modern period Jamaladdin al-Afghani and Muhammad Abduh popularized his works for the Arab peoples once more, and today he is seen as a national hero in the modern states of North Africa. While Irwin sometimes meanders off in his writing, I quite appreciated the general tone of humility in this work. He admits what he doesn’t know and tries to avoid projecting his own outlook onto the medieval Muslim Ibn Khaldun, as many other scholars have done. As L.P. Hartley, once wrote “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” Ibn Khaldun was certainly of the past in his thinking and outlook on the world. That is perhaps what makes him most interesting today after all.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Margaret Sankey

    The point here isn't the post-plague world of precarious 14th century North African ruling dynasties, or the intricate inheritance of Islamic and Arabic turns of phrase, folklore and religious references used in Ibn Khaldun's writings, or the delicate relationship between rulers and the nomadic tribes from whom they pulled their armies and tax money, or the personal biographical tragedies of the man--although Irwin fills in enough of them for the intellectual works to make sense. Instead, this The point here isn't the post-plague world of precarious 14th century North African ruling dynasties, or the intricate inheritance of Islamic and Arabic turns of phrase, folklore and religious references used in Ibn Khaldun's writings, or the delicate relationship between rulers and the nomadic tribes from whom they pulled their armies and tax money, or the personal biographical tragedies of the man--although Irwin fills in enough of them for the intellectual works to make sense. Instead, this is a synthesis work, demonstrating at once hoe Ibn Khaldun was a man firmly of his time, as well as able to transcend it.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    An intellectual biography of the the 14th century Arab historian variously claimed as a precursor of Montesquieu, Comte, Spengler and/or Gibbon, not to mention a founding influence on sociology and economics, and an inspiration for Asimov’s Foundation and Herbert’s Dune. But one of Irwin's recurring themes here is that those who come to Ibn Khaldun tend to envision him in their own image, however much fancy footwork that may require. Irwin seems to have resisted that temptation as best he's An intellectual biography of the the 14th century Arab historian variously claimed as a precursor of Montesquieu, Comte, Spengler and/or Gibbon, not to mention a founding influence on sociology and economics, and an inspiration for Asimov’s Foundation and Herbert’s Dune. But one of Irwin's recurring themes here is that those who come to Ibn Khaldun tend to envision him in their own image, however much fancy footwork that may require. Irwin seems to have resisted that temptation as best he's able: the abiding impression he gives is of a man who was fascinating but also infuriating, and Irwin is careful to emphasise that for all we might have in common with people in the past, there is also much that divides us. On the one hand, a 15th century polemic by one of Ibn Khaldun's followers makes the observation, still sometimes considered satirically viable today, that breathing is pretty much the only thing not taxed. On the other, this is someone who for all his insights, was somehow convinced that it was impossible to die of starvation. Similarly, for all that he anticipates Adam Smith in his observations on the division of labour, Ibn Khaldun was convinced (despite evidence even in his own time and place) that gold and silver were divinely ordained as measures of value, and as such not subject to fluctuation. The speech in which Ronald Reagan (mis)quoted his ideas necessitates the sub-chapter head 'IBN KHALDUN DID NOT INVENT THE LAFFER CURVE', but in some ways you could say their interest in divination and their faith-based economic policies made them bedfellows of a sort. Still, at least Ibn Khaldun understood that there was little real difference between trading and gambling - something which continues to escape a surprising number of people today - even if he did also believe that one of the key arguments against hoarding was that a hoarder “is persecuted by the combined psychic powers of the people whose money he takes away” - a pleasing notion of psionic proto-Marxism which, alas, doesn't seem to be having much impact on the modern 1%. Still, the real focus is on Ibn Khaldun's theories of history, his search for its interior meaning or 'batin' as against the mere externals or 'zahir'. He was much preoccupied by the notion that settled civilisations fall into decadence, at which point they are conquered by nomadic people possessed of more primitive vigour...who promptly settle down, and the cycle repeats. But unlike the Spenglers or Gibbons of this world, he was broadly in favour of this. It's that same hypocritical hard-on of the soft academic for the rough boys which goes back at least to Plato's grubby fascination with Sparta, and still replays as farce in rock critics' inexplicable pretence that there's anything interesting about the Gallaghers, or the leftwing liberal's defence of the dictatorial strongman just so long as he's foreign. Irwin notes that, having begun with these theories, Ibn Khaldun's work doesn't actually do a great deal to live up to them, and that beyond a few set-pieces his actual histories are fairly standard affairs, not even as colourful as those of Western contemporaries who were already writing in a more literary and rhetorically lively style. But as Irwin also notes, it's debatable whether any one man's attempt at a comprehensive history could live up to Ibn Khaldun's prospectus, even if that man were himself. Still, you can see why – whatever its flaws – it might appeal to the likes of Toynbee in particular, who loved the combination of grand design and mystical faith. Something Hegelian there too, of course, though Hegel and Marx were both considerably more convinced of the possibility of progress than the doom-laden Ibn Khaldun. Irwin has elsewhere written persuasively of the problems with Said’s broad-brush attacks on orientalism; still, it is noticeable that until the tenth chapter, on the cultural afterlife of Ibn Khaldun and the Muqadimmah, when he quotes secondary sources the writers tend to have European names. It turns out that this is at least in part because for a long time Ibn Khaldun was a classic prophet without honour in his own land, being adopted first by Ottomans and then Europeans before finally making his way back to the Arabic world. And Irwin certainly neither shies away from nor approves of the ways in which his subject was adopted and misrepresented by colonialist projects, who tended to see Ibn Khaldun as sui generis, both supporting and himself a unique exception to an imperially convenient narrative of the perpetual strife and indolence of the Middle East. Although for all their sleights of hand, you can see why colonialists might have been drawn to a thinker who suspected that the great age of the Arabs was over, and the torch of civilisation passing to Europe. Irwin, on the other hand, is always careful to dig back down into Ibn Khaldun’s own milieu and the currents of thought among which he moved – Sufism, Maliki jurisprudence, the Ash'arite occasionalism which held that "What we call cause and effect are nothing more than God's habit.” Yes, he’s obviously fascinated with the earlier era of orientalists – the colourful likes of Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall, one of the key figures in bringing Ibn Khaldun to European attention, or the equally brilliantly named Reinhart Dozy, whose bellicosity gives the lie to nominative determinism. But he generally manages a wonderful balancing act of being at once magisterial and humble. “Who was Ibn Khaldun writing for? Well, certainly not for me. Nor, come to that, for the massed academics of the twenty-first century world…I am conscious that I have sometimes failed to understand what Ibn Khaldun is saying”. As when Bertrand Russell occasionally admits to not following some particularly abstruse manoeuvre by the scholastics, there are few things which make me trust an expert so much as a frank admission that even they can’t follow everything. On top of which, he has a lovely turn of phrase, as when Ibn Khaldun meets the conqueror the West tends to know as Tamerlane: “Timur, for his part, was fond of historians (though they seem to have been less fond of him).” (Netgalley ARC)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Charles J

    I generally liked this book, by the erudite Orientalist Robert Irwin, but I am not sure why it exists. It is too academic to be popular, and too popular to be academic. I learned something about the famous medieval Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, but I would have been lost if I did not already know much about Ibn Khaldun and medieval Islam generally. So this is not a reference work, or even a normal biography. Really, it’s a seminar in print, discussing a grab-bag of topics about Ibn Khaldun, I generally liked this book, by the erudite Orientalist Robert Irwin, but I am not sure why it exists. It is too academic to be popular, and too popular to be academic. I learned something about the famous medieval Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, but I would have been lost if I did not already know much about Ibn Khaldun and medieval Islam generally. So this is not a reference work, or even a normal biography. Really, it’s a seminar in print, discussing a grab-bag of topics about Ibn Khaldun, valuable mostly as an add-on if you are particularly interested in medieval Islam or the history of North Africa. If a core premise can be found in this book, it is that Ibn Khaldun was a fascinating man, but not at all an early modern man, as he is often portrayed. He did not invent the Laffer Curve, as has been claimed, most famously by Ronald Reagan. He was a historian, of original mold, but he was not an economist or sociologist in any modern meaning of the term. Rather, he was that medieval type common both in East and West—the educated man seeking patronage employment by powerful men (Irwin cleverly calls him “a kind of bureaucratic condottiere”), and tailoring both his writings and their content to that goal. Ibn Khaldun was a man of his time, forgotten by all immediately after his time, and brought back to life by curious Westerners in the early modern period, and by Muslim nations in need of heroes in the later modern period. He wrote a massive universal history of North Africa, the Book of Lessons (Kitab al-‘Ibar), but nobody reads that, then or now. He is remembered today instead for the lengthy (three volumes) introduction to that work, the Muqaddimah, which strives to be a theoretical analysis of history. For Irwin, the Muqaddimah is a an original and fascinating look into how men of the past thought. It is not, at least to the degree sometimes claimed, a modern book, but it is still valuable to moderns. Irwin intertwines facts about Ibn Khaldun’s career with different aspects of his intellectual life. His work, over the seventy-four years of his life, largely consisted of moving around North Africa serving different masters, with occasional pauses to sit still in an isolated place and write. Irwin revolves his core analysis of Ibn Khaldun around a tale from The Thousand and One Nights, “The City of Brass,” an illustration of which graces the cover of this book. The story tells of an Umayyad’s caliph’s desire to find a jar, sealed by Solomon, containing a jinn. The caliph sends the governor of North Africa to scour the landscape for it, which he does, but not before many adventures in ruined cities and dead lands. Those ruined cities, which were in fact scattered all over North Africa, were proof, to Ibn Khaldun, of the continual decay of things. They were a message to the present. Ibn Khaldun did not believe in the future progress or improvement of Man. Quite the contrary. He wrote the Muqaddimah as both analysis and warning to devout Muslims, of how the future would be like the past, cyclical and with the constant throwing-down of the great, at least until the end of Time, which was likely near. No doubt exacerbating his gloom about Muslim decline, Ibn Khaldun wrote as Europe was very much on the rise, and this was apparent to him. “He noted how Maghribi rulers now preferred to employ European mercenaries because of their superiority in fighting in formation. The Christian merchants who visited the Maghreb seemed to be extraordinarily wealthy.” Christians were “more versed in the crafts” and had superseded the Muslims in sea power. That the Black Death had recently ravaged the Middle East (Ibn Khaldun was born in 1332) no doubt further increasing his feeling of gloom, coloring the Muqaddimah’s picture of inevitable decay. Ibn Khaldun therefore developed a theory that, as Irwin points out, inverted the Chinese theory of cyclical political systems (and also contradicts Edward Gibbon’s theses about Rome, in whose mind barbarism and religion were the downfall of the Empire). In Ibn Khaldun’s mind, the highest and best moral and mental attitude was exemplified by desert nomads, in particular their group solidarity, or ‘asabiyaa, and their devotion to a pure form of Islam. The peak of civilization was reached when they invaded and conquered cities, establishing themselves as the new elite of a civilization. Inevitably, their descendants grew wealthy and therefore soft, weak, and irreligious, so in the fourth generation, a new set of nomads would overwhelm the settled areas, beginning the cycle again. Irwin thinks this is dubious history even as applied to North Africa, much less broader areas, but it is the core of the Muqaddimah. Irwin is also interested in Ibn Khaldun’s other intellectual pre-occupations, which are many. He dabbled in physical science, although like early European inquirers he blended science with astrology and alchemy. He also studied what today would be called social science, though his presentation of that is mostly as a moral scold, in a traditional Muslim vein. (Ibn Khaldun was an adherent of the rigid Maliki madhhab.) Nonetheless, Irwin gives Ibn Khaldun full credit for his “readiness to analyze, theorize, and produce generalizations based on the evidence,” comparing him to the contemporary French chronicler of the Hundred Years War, Jean Froissart, who “gave no thought to the underlying cause of the events.” Still, we should not conclude that Ibn Khaldun was a modern man; his interests “give his writing the perhaps delusive appearance of modernity.” Contrary to later legend, Ibn Khaldun was in no way a philosopher, though his “capacity to reason abstractly and to generalize about social and historical phenomena” seemed to point in that direction. He was an Ash’arite occasionalist, uncomfortable with scientific causality, and what works of Aristotle he refers to were not actually works of Aristotle. Of course, in medieval Islam being a philosopher was dangerous; several rivals of Ibn Khaldun, other scholar-bureaucrats, were executed for heresy, although at this remove it’s hard to tell if that was a pretext and they merely lost some power struggle at the court they served. But there is no evidence that Ibn Khaldun was a frustrated philosopher. Whatever the ups and downs, and there were many, he led an interesting life. For example, in 1400, the Mongol conqueror Tamerlane invaded northern Syria, and threatened Damascus. Ibn Khaldun, fascinated by what this said for his own thesis of nomadic “improvement” of decadent societies, accompanied the Mamluk sultan to defend Damascus, and stayed when the sultan decamped back to Cairo. Tamerlane, who like many conquerors enjoyed the company of scholars, especially those who flattered him, allowed Ibn Khaldun to spend a month with him. Fortunately for Ibn Khaldun, he was given leave to return to Cairo (falsely promising he would come back to Damascus), before Tamerlane sacked the city, as usual killing or enslaving almost all the inhabitants. All this is captivating history, and shows Ibn Khaldun as multidimensional, even if, as Irwin notes, we know little about his personal life. Other topics Irwin briefly talks about, in a fairly scattered fashion, are whether Ibn Khaldun was a Sufi (probably yes, he concludes); sorcery and the occult; eschatology; an obscure divination machine, the low social status of schoolteachers; poetry; rote learning; and oral vs. written transmission of history. At greater length Irwin discusses Ibn Khaldun’s thoughts on economics, including that “he was original and almost unique among medieval Arab writers in” writing on economics. Most of Ibn Khaldun’s thoughts on economics are also through a moral lens, but he did anticipate the labor theory of value and offered insights into factors affecting profitability. On the other hand, his famous complaint than in its waning days a regime increases tax rates isn’t a foretaste of the Laffer Curve; it’s part of Ibn Khaldun’s basic pessimism that everything, including productivity, inevitably declines. For him, higher taxes were due to demands for more money, to spend on luxuries, in a time of declining income, not a misguided attempt to raise more money from the same level of productivity. Irwin concludes with an analysis of modern usages of Ibn Khaldun, starting with French colonialists and Orientalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, who resurrected Ibn Khaldun from endless years of being totally forgotten. Their purpose was both academic and practical; they hoped, or some of them hoped, to gain insights into their rule in North Africa. German Orientalists originated the concept of Ibn Khaldun as a proto-modern, a precursor of Hegel and Comte. In the English-speaking world, Arnold Toynbee in the twentieth century popularized Ibn Khaldun as a shining light in a dark time, casting him as part of a line of “thinkers who were ready to make generalizations,” from Thucydides to H. G. Wells. Irwin also discusses in detail modern English translations of the Muqaddimah, pro and con, plus and minus. His basic point for all these moderns is that “many who have studied Ibn Khaldun . . . [have] created an Ibn Khaldun in [their] own image.” True, no doubt, but all this is inside baseball, really of very limited interest to the general reader, even one with an interest in medieval Islam. Many have wondered why Ibn Khaldun wrote his massive books, since nobody asked him to and his peripatetic ways meant that his books never received a receptive audience. Irwin says, “I suspect that Ibn Khaldun’s ideal destination audience was himself and that he wrote to clear his head of all those ideas and insights that boiled and seethed within it.” I think this makes a great degree of sense; some people are just driven to write, and it seems like Ibn Khaldun was one of those. That doesn’t mean I’ll go read the Muqaddimah myself, or even an abridged version, since the return on investment seems low. But that should not detract from the accomplishments of an interesting polymath in an interesting time. I suspect, though, that for the casual reader, there are better summaries of Ibn Khaldun than this book.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Mahmoud Haggui

    From the 19th century onwards, there has been a conscious or unconscious drive to westernize Ibn Khaldun, comparing him to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Vico, Marx,Weber and Durkheim. Though, Ibn Khaldun’s world had more in common with the Quran and the Thousand and One Night than it does with the modern historiography or sociology. It is precisely Ibn Khaldun’s irrelevance to the modern world that makes him so interesting and important. When I read the Muqaddima, I have the sense that I am From the 19th century onwards, there has been a conscious or unconscious drive to westernize Ibn Khaldun, comparing him to Machiavelli, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Vico, Marx,Weber and Durkheim. Though, Ibn Khaldun’s world had more in common with the Quran and the Thousand and One Night than it does with the modern historiography or sociology. It is precisely Ibn Khaldun’s irrelevance to the modern world that makes him so interesting and important. When I read the Muqaddima, I have the sense that I am encountering a visitor from another planet. Irwin comments.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Michael G. Zink

    Marvelous opportunity that missed the mark This book left its fabulous ambition unfulfilled. I enjoyed becoming acquainted with Ibn Khaldun, his 14th century world, and his important writings. The story of Ibn Khaldun and his contemporaries was new to me, and very interesting. Unfortunately, the author seems to have difficulty deciding whether his objective was to present and analyze Ibn Khaldun and his writings, or to review every subsequent translation (or mistranslations) and interpretation of Marvelous opportunity that missed the mark This book left its fabulous ambition unfulfilled. I enjoyed becoming acquainted with Ibn Khaldun, his 14th century world, and his important writings. The story of Ibn Khaldun and his contemporaries was new to me, and very interesting. Unfortunately, the author seems to have difficulty deciding whether his objective was to present and analyze Ibn Khaldun and his writings, or to review every subsequent translation (or mistranslations) and interpretation of Ibn Khaldun’s work. Now at the end of this book, it is not at all clear what perspective the author holds of Ibn Khaldun. I come away disappointed. The story was ambitious and had so much potential, but that potential was unfulfilled.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Gaele

    AudioBook Review: Stars: Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4 Going into this, I knew it would be a challenge, but a very interesting one as the ‘who first did’ questions about near everything in the world are endlessly fascinating to me, and the ‘credit’ is often adjusted to reflect current sociological bias (i.e.: Columbus ‘discovering’ America when people had lived and thrived there successfully for thousands of years). And that has happened throughout time, with a particular dearth of ready AudioBook Review: Stars: Overall 4 Narration 4 Story 4 Going into this, I knew it would be a challenge, but a very interesting one as the ‘who first did’ questions about near everything in the world are endlessly fascinating to me, and the ‘credit’ is often adjusted to reflect current sociological bias (i.e.: Columbus ‘discovering’ America when people had lived and thrived there successfully for thousands of years). And that has happened throughout time, with a particular dearth of ready information for those of us in the West when it comes to Islamic or Arabic scholars, discoveries and history. Princeton University Press approached me with an offer, and since I’m always up for information to expand my knowledge and provide new perspectives, I grabbed at this title. My listen was not without my own set of problems, I was frequently referring to other sources for definitions of words and putting pieces into historical context, understanding the ebb and flow of populations and power centers was necessary for me to understand just how this man’s ideas and concepts came about and were applied. And that was possibly the most revealing part of this book for me – not only was I seeing a perspective on sociology and its origins, the beginnings of the Labor theory of value (which everyone who ever took Econ 101 has heard of), and his view of the history of the world as outlined in The Muqaddamah. That sent me off on a whole other tangent with more added to the reading list as the tome is all-encompassing as is history’s influence on any cultural development at any given time. But – I’m digressing – here Irwin takes the life of Ibn Khaldun and tries to explain his work and thinking from a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective, attempting to remove the labels and ‘boxes’ that are so popular when categorizing a person and showing just how unique and singular this man was, both in thought and the application of his personal beliefs to those thoughts. Khaldun was a conservative, religious man, a Sufi who believed in metaphysical causes and explanations for phenomena, but also was aware of the rise and fall of tribal importance, dynasties and their adjustments over time and changes in circumstance. He interpreted dreams, believed in spirits and divination, and his more ‘scholarly’ thoughts and conclusions were often placed within his own view of a divine order, and as such his teachings seem to be ‘all encompassing’ as they provided the whys to people in ways that they could understand and see them in the world they were living in. In his own life his thoughts and perhaps even his sense of hopefulness were often challenged by outside factors: Black Death, the remnants of Roman and Carthagian empires, the rise of Turks and Berbers and his belief in the rise and fall of dynasties and ruling of ‘the world’ as ultimately futile, as all will reach a ‘tipping point’ from which the only way is down. This contrast of pessimism in the ‘future’ of worldly endeavors while he is explaining his thoughts or belief in the ultimate ‘perfection’ of man and his intentions was striking and when combined with his recognition of past influencing present and future, all while being rather unusually placed in the middle of ‘big thinkers’ of the past (Aristotle, Galen, Ibn Aribi) he was quickly forgotten only to be resurrected by the Ottoman Turks, and the European Orientalists. Muhammad Abduh, an Egyptian Islamic jurist who wrote The Theory of Unity and Jamaladdin al-Afghani, an Afghani Islamic Ideologist were responsible most recently for bringing his work again into the light. This was a title so full of references and names unfamiliar to me that it took a longer time to digest and absorb, while the narration provided by John Telfer was clear and did allow for ‘stopping points’ when I had to dig deeper into a word or statement to be sure it was understood. Non-fiction in audio form is intriguing and pushes you forward, while allowing you to make your own breaks to answer questions. I’ve now added a pile of books and information to look up because of this introduction, and I’m curious to see what more those reveal to me. But, on the whole, I did enjoy this style of biography as Irwin brought the mind of Ibn Khaldun into focus and showed the genius that, as far removed from our world of today his mind and his thoughts are singularly impressive, worthy of standing with other ‘well-regarded’ thinkers of the past. I received an AudioBook copy of the title from Princeton University Press for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility. Review first appeared at I am, Indeed

  8. 5 out of 5

    Revanth Ukkalam

    Irwin holding his subject by hand, takes him into the oriental world. In what looks to the alien and untrained like a decisive and brilliant analysis, he presents Khaldun as a man with ties deeply with his land and still more - Islam. Economics, politics, and historiography even (Khaldun doesn't recognise history as subject) are in their embryo in Khaldun. Philosophy is an even stranger case. He sides not with Faylasufs but al Ghazzali. But why? Irwin has some answers. In fiqh, in Asabiyya, in Irwin holding his subject by hand, takes him into the oriental world. In what looks to the alien and untrained like a decisive and brilliant analysis, he presents Khaldun as a man with ties deeply with his land and still more - Islam. Economics, politics, and historiography even (Khaldun doesn't recognise history as subject) are in their embryo in Khaldun. Philosophy is an even stranger case. He sides not with Faylasufs but al Ghazzali. But why? Irwin has some answers. In fiqh, in Asabiyya, in al Khatib. Just read this book.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Full review here: https://geotrickster.com/2018/05/19/i...

  10. 4 out of 5

    Osama Abusitta

    After reading a positive review in Literary Review magazine I decided to purchase this book. My knowledge of Ibn khaldoun was limited to the fact that he was an acclaimed historian and I wanted to know why. This book simply does not answer that question. On the contrary, it reads like a smear campaign. There is hardly a page that does not include a derogatory or disdainful remark: Ibn Khaldoun suggested "somewhat doubtfully"; "was not consistent"; "[he] reasoned, somewhat strangely" and so on. After reading a positive review in Literary Review magazine I decided to purchase this book. My knowledge of Ibn khaldoun was limited to the fact that he was an acclaimed historian and I wanted to know why. This book simply does not answer that question. On the contrary, it reads like a smear campaign. There is hardly a page that does not include a derogatory or disdainful remark: Ibn Khaldoun suggested "somewhat doubtfully"; "was not consistent"; "[he] reasoned, somewhat strangely" and so on. The author cites ample examples where Ibn Khaldoun, in his opinion, was wrong such as Ibn Khadloun's statement that the larger a city the richer. He tells us why Ronald Reagan's reference to Ibn Khaldoun in a speech was misplaced or undeserved by Ibn Khaldoun. Moreover, Irwin's translations are frequently inaccurate. He translates "Tadris"as study when, in fact, it more accurately translates as teaching. I puzzled why Irwin would write a biography of someone he clearly has no regard for. Then I looked Irwin up and realized that he is a disciple or Bernard Lewis and the puzzle dissolved.

  11. 4 out of 5

    James Spencer

    A real intellectual joy, although not a biography in any real sense. More a critique and commentary on Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddima. As such it is a bit of biography of that work, addressing itself to what makes it great but also how it has been read and misread over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed Irwin's tying of the Muqaddima to modern science fiction works, Asimov's Foundation series and especially Herbert's Dune. This will not appeal to everyone but as someone who knew little about Muslim A real intellectual joy, although not a biography in any real sense. More a critique and commentary on Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddima. As such it is a bit of biography of that work, addressing itself to what makes it great but also how it has been read and misread over the centuries. I particularly enjoyed Irwin's tying of the Muqaddima to modern science fiction works, Asimov's Foundation series and especially Herbert's Dune. This will not appeal to everyone but as someone who knew little about Muslim tenants (despite living in Saudi Arabia for several years, shame on me), this was fascinating.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brian Denton

    Brief survey of the ideas of fourteenth century Maghrebi historian Ibn Khaldun. The majority of the book focuses on Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah, a pessimistic treatise on his philosophy of history. Khaldun's philosophy argues for a cyclical understanding of the rise and fall of societies wherein a strong and austere nomadic culture possessed of firm asabiyyah (social solidarity and unity) slowly evolves into a richer, sedentary and decadent culture with diminishing asabiyyah until the culture Brief survey of the ideas of fourteenth century Maghrebi historian Ibn Khaldun. The majority of the book focuses on Ibn Khaldun's Muqaddimah, a pessimistic treatise on his philosophy of history. Khaldun's philosophy argues for a cyclical understanding of the rise and fall of societies wherein a strong and austere nomadic culture possessed of firm asabiyyah (social solidarity and unity) slowly evolves into a richer, sedentary and decadent culture with diminishing asabiyyah until the culture exhausts itself and is replaced by a new civilization and then the whole thing starts again. Absorbing stuff, especially the idea of asabiyyah, though I'm unsure there are such things as "laws of history." The book also treats other Khaldunian subjects like economics, sociology and divination though none of these are as engrossing as his theories of history. Worth reading if you're into this sort of thing though I can't imagine many people are and it doesn't help that Irwin's writing is about as lively as a boll weevil larva. Still, I enjoyed the book. Interesting content.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Chris Miller

    Mr. Irwin has created a must-read book for anyone contemplating reading or even using, Khaldun’s Muqadimma. This resource is critical to anyone interested in Islamic culture, religion, politics, and almost any other facet of life, during the Medieval period in Europe. Mr. Irwin outlines and discussed the philosophical positions that are present while providing background and context for the author. He also recounts the broad number of people who attempt to use Khaldun, as a progenitor or leading Mr. Irwin has created a must-read book for anyone contemplating reading or even using, Khaldun’s Muqadimma. This resource is critical to anyone interested in Islamic culture, religion, politics, and almost any other facet of life, during the Medieval period in Europe. Mr. Irwin outlines and discussed the philosophical positions that are present while providing background and context for the author. He also recounts the broad number of people who attempt to use Khaldun, as a progenitor or leading figure in THEIR outlook. Khaldun seems to be one of those people that others see through their view, rather than his. An interesting and good read.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nazim Sattar

    Kalbite The book says (Rosenthal’s rendering of Kalbi as Kalbite, a tenth-century Arab dynasty who ruled in Sicily, is most unlikely to be right. “Canine” or “dog-like” seems more likely.) But there were kalbites before 10th century. The Prophet's emissary to Emperor Hercules was Dihya al-Kalbi. And Ali apparently married a Kalbi woman and had a daughter. And whenever Ali asked the little one which tribe she was from she used to reply " 'a 'a" meaning " woof woof"

  15. 4 out of 5

    Dilorom

    This book is not an intellectual biography of ibn Khaldun. On the contrary, it is a gossip book, a smear campaign. I was patient to read to the end, but I had to laugh out laud several times on ridiculous arguments that the author makes. Gathered or made up all the possible derogatory comments about ibn Khaldun, and in general about the Muslim civilization. Feel pity for the author that he has such a negative heart.

  16. 4 out of 5

    ErnstG

    For many years I've wanted to read an intelligent review of what Ibn Khaldoun had done and why it mattered, and this is that book. It explains why he is so respected, as shown by the best private school in seemingly every Arabic city being named after him. I particularly enjoyed the investigation of why it is so difficult to understand his life and world without imposing your modern framework. Of course, he was a man of his time, and that time is a foreign country to us in which there are jinni For many years I've wanted to read an intelligent review of what Ibn Khaldoun had done and why it mattered, and this is that book. It explains why he is so respected, as shown by the best private school in seemingly every Arabic city being named after him. I particularly enjoyed the investigation of why it is so difficult to understand his life and world without imposing your modern framework. Of course, he was a man of his time, and that time is a foreign country to us in which there are jinni and seemingly no understanding of micro economics. After government and diplomatic service at a level that didn't match what he might have expected, Ibn Khaldoun retreated from society and ultimately became a religious judge in Egypt, and taught. That seems consistent with the book being the product of a man trying to understand the world that he couldn't make a success of. To my mind there was more in common with Machiavelli than Irwin acknowledges. The differences he points to are valid, but both seem to have arrived at an understanding that the official ethics sanctioned by their respective religions are not a guide to successful international politics, and perhaps not even compatible with it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Peixian

  18. 4 out of 5

    Mohamed

  19. 5 out of 5

    Andy S

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christian

  21. 5 out of 5

    Hzz15743

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jeri

    Not for the faint of heart. Strangest organization I've seen--there's not really a developed narrative; thus, it's somewhat of a slog to read for the non-historian looking for a good narrative about an interesting life.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Gary P. Gable

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jean

    "That Ibn Khaldun continues to mean all things to all men is a measure of his greatness as well as of his ambiguity." "a tendency among scholars to create an Ibn Khaldun in their own individual image. "..religious scholar sees a religious scholar, marxist recognized a fellow marxist, political philosopher sees a political philosopher, sociologist thinks he is a sociologist, etc. etc. After this book i'm not interested in Ibn Khaldun's work at all, but fascinating to know he could be so many "That Ibn Khaldun continues to mean all things to all men is a measure of his greatness as well as of his ambiguity." "a tendency among scholars to create an Ibn Khaldun in their own individual image. "..religious scholar sees a religious scholar, marxist recognized a fellow marxist, political philosopher sees a political philosopher, sociologist thinks he is a sociologist, etc. etc. After this book i'm not interested in Ibn Khaldun's work at all, but fascinating to know he could be so many different Khaldun to so many scholars.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Mahmood

  26. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Unruh

  27. 5 out of 5

    Mills College Library

    Biog I276i 2018

  28. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Larsson

  29. 5 out of 5

    Eric

  30. 4 out of 5

    Zeenath Naseer

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.