The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri
A Compendium of Knowledge from the Classical Islamic World

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Beyond these more obvious charms, the pleasure of “The Ultimate Ambition” lies in exploring its bewildering scope, a range emblematic of the broad imaginations and curiosities of the 14th-century Islamic world.
-NY Times

Synopsis

For the first time in English, a catalog of the world through fourteenth-century Arab eyes—a kind of Schott’s Miscellany for the Islamic Golden Age
 
An astonishing record of the knowledge of a civilization, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition catalogs everything known to exist from the perspective of a fourteenth-century Egyptian scholar and litterateur. More than 9,000 pages and thirty volumes—here abridged to one volume, and translated into English for the first time—it contains entries on everything from medieval moon-worshipping cults, sexual aphrodisiacs, and the substance of clouds, to how to get the smell of alcohol off one’s breath, the deliciousness of cheese made from buffalo milk, and the nesting habits of flamingos.
 
Similar works by Western authors, including Pliny’s Natural History, have been available in English for centuries. This groundbreaking translation of a remarkable Arabic text—expertly abridged and annotated—offers a look at the world through the highly literary and impressively knowledgeable societies of the classical Islamic world. Meticulously arranged and delightfully eclectic, it is a compendium to be treasured—a true monument of erudition.

For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1,700 titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines. Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators.
 

About Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri

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Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri (1272-1332) was an Egyptian historian of the Islamic Golden Age and a civil servant. Best known for his 9,000 page, 33-volume encyclopedia, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition, he wrote on topics ranging from zoology to anatomy and chronicled the Mongol conquest of Syria.Elias Muhanna (editor/translator) is the Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University and director of the Digital Islamic Humanities Project. He has written for The New York Times, The New Yorker, The Nation, and Foreign Policy and has a large following on his blog, Qifanabki, about the contemporary Middle East. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, he now lives in Providence, Rhode Island.
Author Residence: Providence, Rhode Island (editor/translator)
 
Published August 30, 2016 by Penguin Classics. 349 pages
Genres: History, Education & Reference, Law & Philosophy, Religion & Spirituality, Travel. Non-fiction
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Reviewed by Kanishk Tharoor on Oct 07 2016

Beyond these more obvious charms, the pleasure of “The Ultimate Ambition” lies in exploring its bewildering scope, a range emblematic of the broad imaginations and curiosities of the 14th-century Islamic world.

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