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Kanishk Tharoor
The Guardian

Usama Ibn Munqidh

The Book of Contemplation

In The Book of Contemplation: Islam and the Crusades the twelfth century Arab aristocrat Usama Ibn Munqidh tells of his life and his observations on life.

The book was written in Usama's old age, after he had entered the service of Saladin , but he doesn't tell much about this part of his life. The first part 'Great Events and Calamities during my life' is the most autobiographical part, but I have to say that I found it hard to follow the shifting alliances. The other parts are easier to follow, for the most part consisting of anecdotes which illustrate some noteworthy point. There are plenty of examples of individual bravery (or cowardice) in battle - this was the time when a single armoured knight could play a significant part. There are examples of miracle cures for diseases, and a section devoted to hunting stories - an important activity for any aristocrat. An of course there are the ever present 'Franks' (the crusaders), although not so much of the Crusades themselves - most of the book is concerned with the mid-twelfth century, when there was an useasy status quo between the two sides. Rather one gets a point of view which is different to the one that is common in the West - Usama sees the crusaders as uncouth, barbarian (but often courageous) invaders. All in all the book gives an interesting glimpse into a different world.  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews