Sunday, April 5, 2009

Aladdin's Lamp, by John Freely

In "Aladdin’s Lamp," John Freely tells how Greek science was translated into Arabic, preserved in the schools and texts of the Islamic world, and eventually translated into Latin, helping to spark the European Renaissance. This fascinating culturally important subject deserves both wider recognition and deeper understanding, but unfortunately, "Aladdin’s Lamp" suffers from the sheer scope of its subject and the meticulousness of its author.

"Aladdin’s Lamp" reads like a catalog, presenting the reader with a bewildering amount of information. A randomly chosen and representative page contains six dates; nine names of people, including one in Arabic, one in Greek, and the rest in various romance languages; more than ten subjects of study; and various listings of books (some in Latin) alongside quotes from the Bible and a papal mandate. In such a work, facts float without context to anchor them, and sink from memory.

It isn’t that "Aladdin’s Lamp" fails to make its case. It simply makes its case in too scholarly a fashion. Nevertheless, for the reader who wishes to connect the dots or keep handy a meticulous reference, "Aladdin’s Lamp" will satisfy.

This review originally appeared in the April, 2009 issue of The Sacramento Book Review.

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