This fascinating, little-known story reveals how Islam influenced Western medicine, science, and philosophy during the “Dark Age” of the West at the time of Harun al-Rashid, the caliph of The Thousand and One Nights.
The Caliph’s Splendor is a revealing story of the interaction among the Islamic lands from Spain to central Asia, the Frankish Kingdom (and emerging Holy Roman Empire) of Charlemagne, and the Byzantine Empire in the eighth and ninth centuries. The central figure in the book is Harun al-Rashid, the caliph whose court in Baghdad was the most splendid in the world—far surpassing those of Charlemagne, the pope, and the emperor in Constantinople.
As Christianity was preserving classical civilization, Harun’s scholars and physicians were advancing civilization in Baghdad and beyond. Under his guidance, the Arab influence spread throughout the Mediterranean. But there was also frequent warfare, especially between the caliphate and the neighboring Byzantines, as each sought dominance at the expense of the other.
Author Benson Bobrick brilliantly fills a gap in our historical knowledge, showing us an Islamic culture at its apex and revealing the ambitions and power of one of its most dynamic rulers. “A rich portrait of a key era” (Library Journal) and a book that “achieves a rare blend of storytelling gusto and intellectual depth” (Colin Wells, author of Sailing from Byzantium), The Caliph’s Splendor dramatically recalls this important period in history when Islamic civilization flourished, benefitting people throughout the Mediterranean and beyond.
Benson Bobrick earned his doctorate from Columbia University and is the author of several critically acclaimed works, including Wide as the Waters: The Story of the English Bible and the Revolution It Inspired and Angel in the Whirlwind: The Triumph of the American Revolution. In 2002 he received the Literature Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He and his wife, Hilary, live in Vermont.
“What a great read! Benson Bobrick does full justice to the cultural currents that make the Baghdad of The Arabian Nights so vital to world history. At the same time, he gives us healthy dollops of all the sex, intrigue, and other spicy shenanigans that most historians leave out. This scintillating book achieves a rare blend of storytelling gusto and intellectual depth, reminding us on every page that human history is just that—human."
– Colin Wells, author of Sailing from Byzantium
"Bobrick has read widely in 19th- through 21st-century sources to create a rich portrait of a key era."
– Library Journal
"A fresh overview of the turbulent state of the Middle East and Europe during the 8th century."