This week’s five new books take you across the medieval world, exploring its sciences, myths and wars.
By Neil Gaiman
W.W.Norton and Company
On the bestseller’s list and being talked seemingly everywhere – see here, here and here – this is Neil Gaiman’s look into the stories and legends of the Norse world. “I’ve tried my best,” Gaiman explains, “to retell these myths and stories as accurately as I can, and as interestingly as I can.”
“As I retold these myths,” Gaiman adds, “I tried to imagine myself a long time ago, in the lands where these stories were first old, during the long winter nights perhaps, under the glow of the northern lights, or sitting outside in the small hours, awake in the unending daylight of midsummer, with an audience of people who wanted to know what else Thor did, and what the rainbow was, and how to live their lives, and where bad poetry comes from.
By Stephen P. Blake
Edinburgh University Press
The first accessible, non-technical history of Islamic astronomy and astrology – It was the astronomers and mathematicians of the Islamic world who provided the theories and concepts that paved the way from the geocentric theories of Claudius Ptolemy in the second century AD to the heliocentric breakthroughs of Nicholas Copernicus and Johannes Kepler in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Algebra, the Arabic numeral system, and trigonometry: all these and more originated in the Muslim East and undergirded an increasingly accurate and sophisticated understanding of the movements of the Sun, Moon, and planets. This nontechnical overview of the Islamic advances in the heavenly sciences allows the general reader to appreciate (for the first time) the absolutely crucial role that Muslim scientists played in the overall development of astronomy and astrology in the Eurasian world.
By Mamoru Akamine
University of Hawai’i Press
Excerpt: In the second half of the fourteenth century, when the heretofore unnoticed “Ryukyu” burst upon the stage of history like a comet to become a cornerstone of East Asia, the island of Okinawa was, in fact, divided into three rival domains. Based in the northern, central and southern parts of the island, the rulers were known as the King of the North, King of the Middle, and King of the South. The first to recognize the Ryukyu Kingdom, and who by doing so created its historic role as cornerstone, was Zhu Yuanzhang, founder of the Ming dynasty and, as emperor of China, the leader of East Asia.
…The age-old oceangoing trade that plied the China Sea in such high volume suffered a heavy blow from the Ming Dynasty’s strict enforcement of the tribute system and ban on sea travel. In contrast, Ryukyu seized upon the opportunity provided by the Chinese prohibition of private foreign trade and the vassal tribute system. Ryukyu merchants became the middlemen in a profitable system in which their ships carried Chinese goods to foreign lands, where they were exchanged for merchandise to sell the the Chinese market.
Edited by E.J. Mylod, Guy Perry, Thomas W. Smith, Jan Vandeburie
Sixteen articles are included in this volume: “The Historiography of the Fifth Crusade, ” by Jan Vandeburie; “The Role of Pope Honorius III in the Fifth Crusade,” by Thomas W. Smith; “Totius populi Christiani negotium: The Crusading Conception of Pope Honorius III, 1216–1221,” by Pierre-Vincent Claverie; “From King John of Jerusalem to the Emperor-elect Frederick II: a Neglected Letter from the Fifth Crusade,” by Guy Perry; “The Impact of Prester John on the Fifth Crusade,” by Bernard Hamilton; “The Fifth Crusade and the Conversion of the Muslims,” by Barbara Bombi; “Crusade and Reform: The Sermons of Bibliothèque Nationale, nouv. acq. lat. 999,” by Jessalynn Bird; “The Place of Egypt in the Military Strategy of the Crusades, 1099-1221,” by Alan V. Murray; “The Indigenous Christians of Ayyubid Egypt at the Time of the Fifth Crusade,” by Kenneth Scott Parker; “Pilgrimage, the Holy Land and the Fifth Crusade,” by E. J. Mylod; “Ernoul, Eracles and the Fifth Crusade,” by Peter Edbury; “Rome, vos estes refroidie d’aidier la terre de Surie: Originality and Reception of Huon of Saint-Quentin’s Critical Discourse,” by Ester Dehoux, Amandine Le Roux and Matthieu Rajohnson; “The Events of the Fifth Crusade According to the Cypriot Chronicle of Amadi,” by Nicholas Coureas; “The Teutonic Knights Order during the Fifth Crusade and its rise in Western Europe: the French Case-Study (1218-58),” by Karol Polejowski; “Croats and the Fifth Crusade: Did Two Members of the Babonic Noble Family Accompany King Andrew II of Hungary on his Crusade?,” by Hrvoje Kekez; and “Norway and the Fifth Crusade: The Crusade Movement on the Outskirts of Europe,” by Pål Berg Svenungsen
Edited by Victor J. Katz
Princeton University Press
Medieval Europe was a meeting place for the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic civilizations, and the fertile intellectual exchange of these cultures can be seen in the mathematical developments of the time. This sourcebook presents original Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic sources of medieval mathematics, and shows their cross-cultural influences. Most of the Hebrew and Arabic sources appear here in translation for the first time.
Readers will discover key mathematical revelations, foundational texts, and sophisticated writings by Latin, Hebrew, and Arabic-speaking mathematicians, including Abner of Burgos’s elegant arguments proving results on the conchoid—a curve previously unknown in medieval Europe; Levi ben Gershon’s use of mathematical induction in combinatorial proofs; Al-Mu’taman Ibn Hūd’s extensive survey of mathematics, which included proofs of Heron’s Theorem and Ceva’s Theorem; and Muhyī al-Dīn al-Maghribī’s interesting proof of Euclid’s parallel postulate. There is even a section on the Rithmimachia, “a mathematical game invented in the eleventh century by monks of southern Germany…as a board game it competed with chess and in the Middle Ages it was even more popular.”