Rediscovering the Islamic Classics

This week's review digs into the fascinating history and effects of the Islamic print revolution

Rediscovering the Islamic Classics: How Editors and Print Culture Transformed an Intellectual Tradition

El Shamsy, Ahmed. Princeton, 2020
295p bibl index, 9780691174563 $35.00, 9780691201245

Starting in late antiquity, Muslim scholars established a rich Islamic book culture by recording their reflections on papyrus, parchment, and eventually paper. But though crucial to the spread of Islam itself, this dynamic manuscript culture did not evolve into texts written on movable type until the early 19th century. Due to colonial-era plundering of regional libraries, the works most valued today were largely forgotten. But thanks to the efforts of a small number of intellectuals (and their financial patrons) and editors, over the course of the 19th century the most important classical Islamic scholarship was transferred to print, and the consequences were transformative. El Shamsy (Islamic thought, Univ. of Chicago) is an expert storyteller, and he takes the reader along as he looks at how revered medieval texts became the modern classics of today. The journeys are fascinating. A masterpiece on the history of the Islamic print revolution, this book’s engaging assessment of the central role advocates of printing played in reshaping the Arabo-Islamic world’s intellectual history is required reading for those interested in Islamic thought and literature.

Summing Up: Essential. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty.
Reviewer: 
I. Blumi, American University of Sharjah
Subject: Humanities – Religion
Choice Issue: Apr 2021


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