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New Medieval Books: Wonders and Rarities

Wonders and Rarities: The Marvelous Book that Traveled the World and Mapped the Cosmos

By Travis Zadeh

Harvard University Press
ISBN: 978-0-674-25845-7

This book introduces us to the life and works of Zakariyyāʾ Qazwīnī, a 13th-century scholar from Iran. He wrote about the cosmos and the geography of the world, producing an influential book known as Wonders and Rarities. The book also examines the history of the Qazwīnī’s writings into modern times.


Before you, esteemed reader, in there here and now, is a book that holds up a mirror to Qazwini’s Wonders and Rarities, which for hundreds of years has sought nothing more than to capture the entire world. The chapters that follow proceed as a kind of response,  in the Persian tradition of the javab, a poetic reply made centuries later to a classic. Such replies generally develop a similar sensibility, structure, or set of motifs, but often for distinct purposes. I have drawn many direct details from Qazwini’s writings and those of his contemporaries. Through imagery, digressions, and storytelling, I have also attempted to evoke in some measure the intricate conventions that enliven classical Arabic and Persian belles letters, Qazwīnī included.


You can also check out a 14th-century manuscript of Qazwini’s work, which includes many fascinating images.

Who is this book for?

Most readers will not know how impactful Zakariyyāʾ Qazwīnī when it comes to learning and natural philosophy in the Middle Ages. This book aims to correct that. As well as being an interesting story in itself, many scholars interested in medieval views about astronomy, geography, minerology, botany and other sciences will want to have a copy.


The author:

Travis Zadeh is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Yale University. He has a wide range of interests when it comes to the medieval Islamic world. You can visit his page to learn more.

Here is a podcast episode where Travis Zadeh discusses his new book:

See also this lecture he gave on ‘Stranger Matter: The Weird and Paranormal in Islamic Natural Philosophy’:

You can learn more about this book from the publisher’s website

You can also buy this book on | |