The Ornament of the World

By María Rosa Menocal,

Book cover of The Ornament of the World: How Muslims, Jews, and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain

Book description

A rich and thriving culture where literature, science and religious tolerance flourished for 700 years is the subject of this enthralling history of medieval Spain.

Living side by side in the Andalusian kingdoms, the 'peoples of the book' produced statesmen, poets and philosophers who influenced the rest of Europe in…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked The Ornament of the World as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

If there’s only one that I could recommend, it’s this brilliant, beautiful, and vexing book by María Rosa Menocal, Sterling Professor at Yale University. In a compelling and artful manner, Menocal tells the story of medieval Spain from the arrival of the first Umayyad rulers to Cervantes. Beyond being a useful introduction to the fascinating history, Menocal makes the argument that a culture of tolerance existed in medieval Spain, one that transcended religious and ethnic differences. The principal engine of this culture, she suggests, was the Arabic language. Menocal’s book has received as much praise as criticism, a testament to…

This vivid portrait of multicultural tolerance in late-medieval Spain reads like an adventure story and is just as hard to put down. No wonder it has won so many prizes! The book has been controversial from the get-go, since it suggests that the three Abrahamic religions lived together more peacefully under Muslim rule than at any later time. Some critics have said that Menocal paints too rosy a picture, but actually she is careful to show that medieval Spain was not an unblemished success. What really bothers the critics is her demonstration that violent struggles between religious groups are not…

This is the best and most accessible introduction to the Moorish period of Spanish history – which stretches over almost 1,000 years – explaining how it blended with Christian and Jewish cultures to forge both Spanish and Western civilisation. The Moors are too often treated as an anomaly, as though they could be separated or placed in parenthesis, apart from the rest of the Spanish story. Yet they form an essential element, despite great efforts (e.g. by the Inquisition) to erase or draw a veil over them. A great book.

From Jason's list on Spain.

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