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“A fascinating peek at the minds of our ancestors. You can see how man’s understanding of the world has changed drastically in some ways and remained startlingly constant in others. Plus the book is just plain fun to read.” —A. J. Jacobs, New York Times bestselling author of The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblically“A smart, exhilarating selection from a vast work. The scholarship is solid but unobtrusive, and the style, clear and flavorful, draws the reader in. Al-Nuwayri’s encyclopedia, somewhat like Vincent of Beauvais’s a hundred years before him, delights as it moves between learned tradition, jaw-dropping anecdote, and elegant (and elegantly translated) poetry. Dip in, and a distant world, endlessly colorful, comes to sparkling life.” —Andras P. Hamori, Princeton University“From the structure of the heavens to the curious anatomy of the hippopotamus, with stops to view everything from book-keeping to aphrodisiacs, this charming fourteenth-century encyclopedia gives a glimpse of the entire world as seen by a very learned Egyptian summing up the powerful tradition of medieval Islamic scholarship known in his time. Elias Muhanna’s very readable translation allows the reader to gain a rounded experience of a deeply interesting bygone world.” —Roy P. Mottahedeh, Harvard University“Finally, thanks to Elias Muhanna’s expert translation, editing, and explanatory notes, we have access to a real encyclopedia to place alongside Borges’s mythical Chinese text. An extraordinary work, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition strives for nothing less than an orderly, total account of the world, and Al-Nuwayri’s unique accomplishment in the encyclopedic tradition is not to suggest that wonder is to be found in the many oddities, rarities, and exceptions of the given world, but to show how, beneath these features, there is a deeper and more marvelous order.” —Elliott Colla, Georgetown University“This engaging volume lets you dip into the world of a fourteenth-century Egyptian encyclopedist who knew about the endless rain in England, the skillfulness of artists in China, how a woman can get away with claiming to be a prophetess, why a bureaucrat should never commit the size of the army to writing, and anything else worth knowing.” —Michael Cook, Princeton University“This delightful volume offers readers of English the first opportunity to sample the vast and varied literature of Arabic encyclopedism. Under Elias Muhanna’s expert guidance you will encounter advice and information strangely foreign and occasionally familiar, drawn from al-Nuwayri’s 14th-century perspective on history and politics, medicine and the natural world.” —Ann Blair, Harvard University“A veritable Wikipedia of its time . . . The erudition and breadth of the book is staggering, and it is a positively entertaining collection. . . . A valuable addition to the library of those who are interested in medieval miscellany [and] a corrective to narratives that might isolate the Islamic world from the wider cosmos of medieval thinking.” —Publishers Weekly“Fascinating . . . This condensed, abbreviated English-language rendition more than does justice to the Arabic text. . . . [A] clear, accessible translation . . . with copious notes and suggested further readings.” —Library Journal About the Author Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri (1279–1333) was an Egyptian scholar and civil servant in the Mamluk Empire. His nine-thousand-page, thirty-three-volume encyclopedia, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, is one of the most important medieval collections of Arabic literature and Islamic thought. Elias Muhanna (editor/translator) is the Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. A scholar of classical Arabic literature and Islamic intellectual history, he has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Nation, and Foreign Policy, and he runs the blog Qifa Nabki, about the contemporary Middle East. Born in Lebanon, he now lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
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