Monday, October 18, 2004

BookBlog by Adina Levin

BookBlog by Adina Levin

BookBlog is

"Adina Levin's weblog. For conversation about books I've been reading, social software, and other stuff too."

Adina has some excellently written book reviews on the BookBlog:

What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response
by Bernard Lewis

Adina writes e.g.:

"Contemporary Sharia systems in places like Iran and Afghanistan are
often mocked for being medieval and backward, legislating repression of
women and brutal corporal punshment (no, I'm not in favor of the Texas
death penalty, either). But there is no empirical reason that a system
of Muslim jurisprudence needs to be backward. After all, European laws
once featured trial by ordeal, and prevented women from owning property.
A living tradition of Muslim law might be able to adapt to current
economic and social conditions. How did the Sharia change from a system
that had once reflected the standards of justice of its time to one that
insisted on avoiding change?"

The Mapmakers
by John Noble Wilford

This book is of particular interest to me because of my own book,
Stars Stones and Scholars, which claims that the megaliths are remnants of ancient surveys, i.e. that they are Stone Age geodetic mapping systems triangulated by means of the astronomy, using stars much as in ocean navigation.

Adina writes, inter alia:

"The Mapmakers purports to be world history, but it has a strong European focus. Wilford does include few pages about sophisticated early mapmaking practices in China. But he almost completely ignores Muslim and Indian geography. The book contains just one brief reference to ibn Khaldun, the medieval Muslim traveler and geographer, and nothing on Al Idrisi, who was commissioned by Roger II, the Christian king of Sicily, to update navigational records, and created the famous early atlas called "The Book of Roger." The Mapmakers briefly mentions that one Francis Wilford, a member of India Survey, was a student of ancient Hindu geography. Given early Indian sophistication in astronomy, math, and government administration, one wonders what earlier sources of geographic knowledge he drew on. According to an Indian friend of mine, many early maps were destroyed to keep them out of the hands of British colonial rulers.

Wilford writes about the dire level of geographic ignorance of Medieval Europeans, whose maps routinely placed Paradise at the Eastern border of China, without noting that during the same period, there was a longstanding, ongoing system of travel and trade from Arabia through India and Southeast Asia to China (see books by Abu Lughod and KN Chaudhuri, among others), conducted by Arabs, Jews, Indians, and sometimes Chinese. I don't know what sorts of maps were used by these travelling merchants, but they must have used something, because they got from place to place regularly and routinely."

(crossposted to LawPundit)

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