Aladdin’s Lamp: How Greek Science Came to Europe Through the Islamic World — Book Review

abdul hannan
3 min readFeb 15, 2021

The first ever book I’ve read by John Freely and enjoyed a lot while reading it. Although I faced a lot of trouble while reading this book (Took me a month and a half to read it), but that’s on my part and due to my lack of knowledge of Science, Physics, Geography and Astronomy. In my opinion, readers like me were not the intended readers by the author.

The writer has carried out the main subject throughout the book in a sequential and amazingly well mannered way. As a “wise man” (me in this case) has said “chronology helps in converting the data into information’’, it comes out John Freely knew this too. Absolutely Impressed by his extensive knowledge of the history of science and this extraordinary narrative spanning almost twenty five centuries. The author has written this book without being biased towards Muslims (One can think of blessedness by the subhead of the book), he has given credit to Greeks, Jews, Christians and Muslims equally wherever it’s due.

Freely has made it very easy for the readers to understand the subject and catch up with the book, he has mentioned the era, inspirations, contributions and region of each scientist along with their names, also whenever and wherever the name of any ruler or emperor comes up in the book he has mentioned their reigns and dynasties to keep the reader attached to the book. The author has divided the book into 18 chapters, the edition I’ve has 255 pages (excluding acknowledgements, illustration credits and notes etc). Before reading the book, I was wondering why the author has divided the book into so many chapters, but after reading it, I realized how easy the author has made it for the readers to read the book and grasp the subject by doing so.

I personally got a lot to learn from Aladdin’s Lamp, as before reading this book I didn’t even know a bit about the science of Ancient Greek and medieval period.

One thing that I found missing in the book is contributions of Hindus from Indus Valley civilization and Vedas to Modern times, Freely has mentioned a few in the book though, but again they are very few. While everyone knows about the major contributions (introduction of decimal system as well as the invention of zero) made by Hindus especially in Mathematics and trigonometry. Perhaps Freely deliberately did this just to be precise on the targeted subject or maybe due to lack of research or unavailability of resources. Anyways, the book does justice to its title and that’s more important.

A few recommendations for the readers:

1. Keep checking the names of places/locations from maps especially if you don’t have much knowledge of Geography of Europe, the Middle Earth (East) and North Africa (Mediterranean world, you can say).

2. Try to note down or highlight the names, research/contributions, treatises and books of the famous scientists and philosophers as they are repeated and mentioned over and over again in the next chapters for references.

3. You may not keep track in the beginning (not necessary depending on your knowledge, but I found it difficult to) and the pace can be slow, but keep going, once you’ve read through the first 2 chapters you’ll start enjoying the book in its real essence.

Definitely going to read the book for 2nd and maybe 3rd time, because I couldn’t understand and can’t digest this much load of information in a single read.

Thank you John Freely for writing this masterpiece, you’ve my heart and respect Sir.

Will surely read more books by John Freely. Totally recommended, happy reading.



abdul hannan

Believer, Reader, Learner, Developer