Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography by Robert Irwin

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography by Robert Irwin

I got a lovely surprise with the turn of the year – Princeton University is producing audiobooks, and they offered me their list of titles available for review! I love to learn and discover people and things I hadn’t known before – and this was my chance.  Starting with this title, narrated by John Telfer

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography

Going into this, I knew it would be a challenge, but a very interesting one as the ‘who first did’ questions about near everything in the world are endlessly fascinating to me, and the ‘credit’ is often adjusted to reflect current sociological bias (i.e.: Columbus ‘discovering’ America when people had lived and thrived there successfully for thousands of years). And that has happened throughout time, with a particular dearth of ready information for those of us in the West when it comes to Islamic or Arabic scholars, discoveries and history. Princeton University Press approached me with an offer, and since I’m always up for information to expand my knowledge and provide new perspectives, I grabbed at this title. My listen was not without my own set of problems, I was frequently referring to other sources for definitions of words and putting pieces into historical context, understanding the ebb and flow of populations and power centers was necessary for me to understand just how this man’s ideas and concepts came about and were applied. And that was possibly the most revealing part of this book for me – not only was I seeing a perspective on sociology and its origins, the beginnings of the Labor theory of value (which everyone who ever took Econ 101 has heard of), and his view of the history of the world as outlined in The Muqaddamah. That sent me off on a whole other tangent with more added to the reading list as the tome is all-encompassing as is history’s influence on any cultural development at any given time.

But – I’m digressing – here Irwin takes the life of Ibn Khaldun and tries to explain his work and thinking from a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective, attempting to remove the labels and ‘boxes’ that are so popular when categorizing a person and showing just how unique and singular this man was, both in thought and the application of his personal beliefs to those thoughts. Khaldun was a conservative, religious man, a Sufi who believed in metaphysical causes and explanations for phenomena, but also was aware of the rise and fall of tribal importance, dynasties and their adjustments over time and changes in circumstance. He interpreted dreams, believed in spirits and divination, and his more ‘scholarly’ thoughts and conclusions were often placed within his own view of a divine order, and as such his teachings seem to be ‘all encompassing’ as they provided the whys to people in ways that they could understand and see them in the world they were living in. In his own life his thoughts and perhaps even his sense of hopefulness were often challenged by outside factors: Black Death, the remnants of Roman and Carthagian empires, the rise of Turks and Berbers and his belief in the rise and fall of dynasties and ruling of ‘the world’ as ultimately futile, as all will reach a ‘tipping point’ from which the only way is down. This contrast of pessimism in the ‘future’ of worldly endeavors while he is explaining his thoughts or belief in the ultimate ‘perfection’ of man and his intentions was striking and when combined with his recognition of past influencing present and future, all while being rather unusually placed in the middle of ‘big thinkers’ of the past (Aristotle, Galen, Ibn Aribi) he was quickly forgotten only to be resurrected by the Ottoman Turks, and the European Orientalists. Muhammad Abduh, an Egyptian Islamic jurist who wrote The Theory of Unity and Jamaladdin al-Afghani, an Afghani Islamic Ideologist were responsible most recently for bringing his work again into the light.

This was a title so full of references and names unfamiliar to me that it took a longer time to digest and absorb, while the narration provided by John Telfer was clear and did allow for ‘stopping points’ when I had to dig deeper into a word or statement to be sure it was understood. Non-fiction in audio form is intriguing and pushes you forward, while allowing you to make your own breaks to answer questions. I’ve now added a pile of books and information to look up because of this introduction, and I’m curious to see what more those reveal to me. But, on the whole, I did enjoy this style of biography as Irwin brought the mind of Ibn Khaldun into focus and showed the genius that, as far removed from our world of today his mind and his thoughts are singularly impressive, worthy of standing with other ‘well-regarded’ thinkers of the past.

Stars: Overall 4  Narration 4 Story 4

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography by Robert Irwin

Title: Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography
Author: Robert Irwin
Genre: Biographic / autobiographic, Middle Ages, Non Fiction
Narrator: John Telfer
Published by: Princeton University Press
ISBN: 0691174660
Published on: 28 February, 2019
Source: Princeton University Press
Pages: 256
Audio Length: 9 Hours: 34 minutes
Rated: four-stars
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See this Title on Goodreads

The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima

Ibn Khaldun (1332–1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world--a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, is not as well known as he should be, and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this groundbreaking intellectual biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun's extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas.

Irwin tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. Closely examining the Muqaddima, a startlingly original analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin shows how Ibn Khaldun's life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Because Ibn Khaldun's ideas often seem to anticipate by centuries developments in many fields, he has often been depicted as more of a modern man than a medieval one, and Irwin's account of such misreadings provides new insights about the history of Orientalism.

In contrast, Irwin presents an Ibn Khaldun who was a creature of his time—a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.

A copy of this title was provided via Princeton University Press for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.



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