The Genius of their Age Ibn Sina Biruni and the Lost Enlightenment

S. Frederick Starr

The Genius of their Age Ibn Sina Biruni and the Lost Enlightenment

S. Frederick Starr






21 Feb 2024


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A vibrant portrait of an age when Arabic enlightenment anticipated and inspired the European Renaissance, illuminated by its guiding figures and rivals, Ibn Sina and Biruni.

In The Genius of their Age, S. Frederick Starr follows up his acclaimed Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age with a portrait of the Arab enlightenment and its key figures--Abu-Ali al-Husayn ibn-'Abdallah Ibn-Sina and Abu al-Rayhan Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Biruni. A thousand years ago, these two intellectual giants--known as Ibn Sina and Biruni for short--achieved stunning breakthroughs in fields as diverse as medicine, astronomy, mathematics, philosophy, geography, and physics. Biruni measured the earth more precisely than anyone else down to the sixteenth century, pondered a heliocentric universe, and hypothesized the existence of North and South America as inhabited continents. Ibn Sina's writing on philosophy and metaphysics enriched the writings of countless European thinkers, including St. Thomas Aquinas, while Sina's grand synthesis of medical knowledge became the standard for the next six hundred years in Europe, the Middle East, and India. They both also commented extensively on the works of ancient Greeks and earlier Muslim thinkers, whose works they aspired to synthesize--and to transcend.

Contemporaries, Ibn Sina and Biruni were born within the borders of what is now Uzbekistan and spent their lives in Central Asia. They also became rivals, launching a correspondence and commentary that galvanized them despite sometimes bitter disagreement. Centuries before the West caught up with them, Ibn Sina and Biruni reflected their age's feats and its intellectual high point, persisting with their inquiries and their independence amid turmoil and rapid change.

Though scholars have long dissected the works of Ibn Sina and Biruni, S. Frederick Starr focuses also on their lives and the times in which they lived. By contextualizing their work and by making the age palpable to the reader, S. Frederick Starr gives the achievements of Ibn Sina and Biruni a holistic and unforgettably human dimension.


Introduction 1. Together and Apart 2. Privileged Prodigies 3. Promise and Disruption 4. Caught in the Whirlwind 5. Arguing Aristotle 6. Inventing a World History 7. From Peace to Chaos 8. Nemesis: Mahmud of Ghazni 9. Ibn Sina, Encyclopedist 10. Expanding the Known World 11. Ibn Sina's Adventures 12. Biruni's Masterpiece 13. The Canon of Medicine 14. Biruni's Canon for Masud 15. The Cure 16. Biruni's Encore 17. Ibn Sina's Encore 18. Biruni and Ibn Sina through the Ages 19. Biruni and Ibn Sina, a Millennium On


S. Frederick Starr , Chairman, Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council, UNITED STATES

S. Frederick Starr is Chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute at the American Foreign Policy Council. Beginning his career in archaeology in Turkey, he went on to serve as founding chairman of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at The Wilson Center, vice-president of Tulane University, and president of Oberlin College and the Aspen Institute. His two dozen books and hundreds of other writings focus on the interaction of culture and politics and cover fields as diverse as architecture, diplomacy, history, political science, and music. His pioneering Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia's Golden Age sparked worldwide interest in the achievements of Central Asian civilization during its greatest era.


"Such an important and useful book to introduce two of the world's greatest scholars to a wider audience. Fred Starr's delightful work explains the ground-breaking work of Ibn Sina and al-Biruni - and sets their achievements in their rightful, proper context." -- Peter Frankopan, author of The Earth Transformed: An Untold History and The New Silk Roads: The Present and Future of the World

"Ibn Sina and Biruni, two of the greatest minds of the Middle Ages, have found the ideal person in Frederick Starr to present their intertwining lives and thought to a modern, global readership. Intimately familiar with the medieval Persianate context, widely read in the scholarly literature, and remarkably proficient in his exposition of complex philosophical ideas, Starr has produced a consummate work of historical synthesis that should help introduce these intellectual giants to a new audience." -- Fitzroy Morrissey, All Souls College, Oxford, author of A Short History of Islamic Thought

"[Starr] illuminates the richness of thought that characterized this "lost Enlightenment"." -- The New Yorker