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The Rise of the Arabic Book

The Rise of the Arabic Book

Beatrice Gruendler

ISBN 9780674987814

Publication date: 10/13/2020

The little-known story of the sophisticated and vibrant Arabic book culture that flourished during the Middle Ages.

During the thirteenth century, Europe’s largest library owned fewer than 2,000 volumes. Libraries in the Arab world at the time had exponentially larger collections. Five libraries in Baghdad alone held between 200,000 and 1,000,000 books each, including multiple copies of standard works so that their many patrons could enjoy simultaneous access.

How did the Arabic codex become so popular during the Middle Ages, even as the well-established form languished in Europe? Beatrice Gruendler’s The Rise of the Arabic Book answers this question through in-depth stories of bookmakers and book collectors, stationers and librarians, scholars and poets of the ninth century.

The history of the book has been written with an outsize focus on Europe. The role books played in shaping the great literary cultures of the world beyond the West has been less known—until now. An internationally renowned expert in classical Arabic literature, Gruendler corrects this oversight and takes us into the rich literary milieu of early Arabic letters.


  • [A] superb history of the creation of the Arabic book in the ninth century…Gruendler is a leading authority on Classical Arabic literature of the early period and her chosen excerpts are both astute and illuminating—and often unexpectedly amusing (and sometimes downright scurrilous)…A major work of scholarship which is also a delight to read.

    —Eric Ormsby, Literary Review


  • Beatrice Gruendler is a recipient of the Leibniz Prize and the author and translator of numerous books, including Medieval Arabic Praise Poetry. The former President of the American Oriental Society, she is Professor of Arabic at Freie Universität Berlin.

Book Details

  • 272 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press