The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima
Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world - a genius who ranks as one of the world's great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, is not as well known as he should be, and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this groundbreaking intellectual biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun's extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas.
Irwin tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. Closely examining the Muqaddima, a startlingly original analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin describes how Ibn Khaldun's life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Because Ibn Khaldun's ideas often seem to anticipate by centuries developments in many fields, he has often been depicted as more of a modern man than a medieval one, and Irwin's account of such misreadings provides new insights about the history of Orientalism.
In contrast, Irwin presents an Ibn Khaldun who was a creature of his time - a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.
"A compelling new account of the 14th-century Arab historian and polymath.... Irwin has produced an exemplary work." (Gavin Jacobson, Financial Times)
"Irwin wears his immense erudition lightly and gives an often very funny account of how orientalists, historians, and modern Arab nationalist have interpreted Ibn Khaldun’s most famous work.... Irwin offers his readers a superb work of intellectual recovery, one which presents Ibn Khaldun as a creature of his time.... He has resurrected for us the medieval Muslim mind." (Francis Ghilès, The Spectator)
"In Robert Irwin, Ibn Khaldun has finally found a biographer and interpreter almost as versatile and learned as he was himself." (Eric Ormsby, Wall Street Journal)