“As Zadeh concludes, reformers and modernists have closed the rich and varied archive revealed in Wonders and Rarities…In this beautifully written and engaging text, Zadeh takes his readers back to the world of surprise and enchantment that preceded this closure.”—Malise Ruthven, Financial Times
“The wonders and curiosities of the Islamic imagination await discovery by a new generation of readers in this superb and very enjoyable book by Travis Zadeh.”—Orhan Pamuk, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature
The astonishing biography of one of the world’s most influential books.
During the thirteenth century, the Persian naturalist and judge Zakariyyāʾ Qazwīnī authored what became one of the most influential works of natural history in the world: Wonders and Rarities. Exploring the dazzling movements of the stars above, the strange minutiae of the minerals beneath the earth, and everything in between, Qazwīnī offered a captivating account of the cosmos. With fine paintings and leading science, Wonders and Rarities inspired generations as it traveled through madrasas and courts, unveiling the magical powers of nature. Yet after circulating for centuries, first in Arabic and Persian, then in Turkish and Urdu, Qazwīnī’s compendium eventually came to stand as a strange, if beautiful, emblem of medieval ignorance.
Restoring Qazwīnī to his place as a herald of the rare and astonishing, Travis Zadeh dramatically revises the place of wonder in the history of Islamic philosophy, science, and literature. From the Mongol conquests to the rise of European imperialism and Islamic reform, Zadeh shows, wonder provided an enduring way to conceive of the world—at once constituting an affective reaction, an aesthetic stance, a performance of piety, and a cognitive state. Yet through the course of colonial modernity, Qazwīnī’s universe of marvels helped advance the notion that Muslims lived in a timeless world of superstition and enchantment, unaware of the western hemisphere or the earth’s rotation around the sun.
Recovering Qazwīnī’s ideas and his reception, Zadeh invites us into a forgotten world of thought, where wonder mastered the senses through the power of reason and the pleasure of contemplation.
As Zadeh concludes, reformers and modernists have closed the rich and varied archive revealed in Wonders and Rarities…In this beautifully written and engaging text, Zadeh takes his readers back to the world of surprise and enchantment that preceded this closure.
The wonders and curiosities of the Islamic imagination await discovery by a new generation of readers in this superb and very enjoyable book by Travis Zadeh.
Like al-Qazwīnī himself, Travis Zadeh has written a deliciously baggy tome, full of delights and diversions in its tour of the cosmic horizons. This is a book to get lost in, whether one wants to or not. Zadeh describes the ʿAjaʾib al-Makhlūqāt as containing a ‘world within a book.’ In his own Wonders and Rarities, he has managed something similar himself.
This book about a book, like the book it describes, is a rare and marvelous thing…In his passionate and erudite mission to restore Qazwini to centre stage, [Zadeh] has given readers a book filled with its own wonder and marvels. Like his hero, he well understands the most important thing: ‘What matters is a good story.’
Wonders and Rarities has been studied by art historians in particular, but Travis Zadeh sets it in the context of wider Islamic thought…Indeed, he faces the mammoth task of mastering the same range of disciplines as Qazwini himself, from alchemy to botany, philosophy, theology and zoology. These feats are themselves worthy of wonder.
A study of the wondrous, marvelous, and strange in the Islamicate context…This book contributes to our understanding of an intellectually vibrant world full of wondrous anecdotes, magic, science, and poetry.
A remarkable account of how a single text captivated readers for centuries, across the boundaries of language, religion, culture, and politics. Travis Zadeh’s engrossing study uncovers, with great erudition, the genesis and many afterlives of an extraordinary book, illuminating its continued power to inspire and amaze readers in our present day.
A wide-ranging and enchanting study…Zadeh has traced the history of al-Qazwini’s books in the centuries after their author’s death, their abbreviations, expansions, imitations and glorious illustrations.
A magnificent and essential book. Zadeh deftly illuminates centuries of occult and natural history, restoring Qazwīnī's place in this vast world of thought. The result is an astonishing work of Islamic intellectual and cultural history, one that delves deeply into the intricacies and the pleasures of wonder without the prism of orientalism.
Beautifully written and deeply researched, this book explores the religious and intellectual importance of wonder in Islamic civilization through the study of a classic text. A must-read!
- 464 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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