Even if arabic science is not your thing, Jim Al-Khalili’s book on the contribution of medieval Islamic thinkers is a fascinating introduction to a neglected area.
His approachable style and ability to distil extensive knowledge into simple narrative makes Pathfinders an absorbing read.
The greats of Arabic science are placed in historical context; Al-Khalili argues that it was one ruler’s spirit of inclusiveness, the tolerant/rationalist Mu’tazilite movement, plus an expanding Islamic empire that kickstarted the Arabic scientific revolution.
A push to translate important texts into Arabic meant Greek, Syriac, Persian and Indian scientific traditions were compared, discrepancies noted and a desire for original research fostered.
Many of the great discoveries attributed to Renaissance or later Western scientists were actually made by brilliant Islamic thinkers.
Al-Khalili is less certain when postulating why Arabic science dropped off so dramatically (he suggests the difficulty in transferring Arabic script to the printing process hindered them). But this is an eye-opening survey.