In this rich, irreverent, and compelling history, Nobel Prize winning physicist Steven Weinberg takes us across centuries, from ancient Miletus to medieval Baghdad and Oxford, from Plato's Academy and the Museum of Alexandria to the cathedral school of Chartres and the Royal Society of London. He shows that the scientists of ancient and medieval times not only did not understand what we understand about the world—they did not understand what there is to understand or how to understand it. Yet over the centuries, through the struggle to solve such mysteries as the curious backward movement of the planets and the rise and fall of the tides, the modern discipline of science eventually emerged. Along the way, Weinberg examines historic clashes and collaborations between science and the competing spheres of religion, technology, poetry, mathematics, and philosophy.
In the 1980s, a young adventurer and collector for a government library, Abdel Kader Haidara, journeyed across the Sahara Desert and along the Niger River, tracking down and salvaging tens of thousands of ancient Islamic and secular manuscripts that were crumbling in the trunks of desert farmers. His goal was to preserve this crucial part of the world’s patrimony in a gorgeous library. But then Al Qaeda showed up at the door.