In a world troubled by religious strife and division, Chris Lowney's vividly written new book offers a hopeful historical reminder: Muslims, Christians, and Jews once lived together in Spain, creating a centuries-long flowering of commerce, culture, art, and architecture. Written with a narrative drive reminiscent of Barbara Tuchman'sA Distant Mirror,this new work takes us back to a medieval Iberia that prefigured the Renaissance.In 711, a ragtag army of Muslim North Africans conquered Christian Spain and launched Western Europe's first (and to date only) Islamic state. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella vanquished Spain's last Muslim kingdom, forced Jews to convert or emigrate, and dispatched Christopher Columbus to the New World. In the years between, Spain's Muslims, Christians, and Jews forged a golden age for each faith and distanced Spain from a Europe mired in the Dark Ages.Medieval Spain's pioneering innovations touched every dimension of Western life: Spaniards introduced Europeans to paper manufacture and to the Hindu-Arabic numerals that supplanted the Roman numeral system.
This bold and compassionate articulation of medieval Spanish history, with its complex interactions among Jews, Muslims and Christians, speaks directly to contemporary international crises. Lowney (Heroic Leadership: Best Practices from a 450-Year-Old Company That Changed the World) is more explicit in providing ethical lessons than Maria Rosa Menocal in Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain, but his convictions are gently woven into the narrative and are never didactic. Lowney tells the tale of coexistence, and its eventual unraveling, with detail, delicacy and verve, avoiding a romanticized exaggeration of tolerance. He is hardheaded about the motives that underlay an acceptance of religious diversity in medieval Iberia, and is acutely aware of the period's dark ironies: for instance, Muslim Granada survived by selling out its coreligionists in Seville, and Alfonso the Wise had a schizophrenic relationship with Spanish Jews. Lowney's account reflects a good deal of recent scholarship and avoids stereotypical recasting of the Black Legend; students of medieval history will learn much from Lowney's fresh perspective. But he remains sensitive to the indissoluble pain that accompanied the disasters of the late Middle Ages. This engrossing and illuminating book deserves the attention of a wide public. One map. Agent, Jim Fitzgerald. (Apr. 6) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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March 29, 2005
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