Anyone who built a pinhole camera from a cereal box to watch the solar eclipse last week owes a debt to Islamic scholar Abu Ali al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham (ca. 965-1041), known in the West as Alhazen. Alhazen began his career as just another Islamic polymath. He soon got himself in trouble with the ruler of…

Read More

A few weeks ago, or perhaps a few months ago, or at least recently enough that it has stayed in my head, one of the Marginalia asked me about camels. The short answer is simple: read Richard W. Bulliet’s The Camel and the Wheel. It’s a charming and well-illustrated book that explores the question of…

Read More

Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a military disaster,* but the Army of the Orient wasn’t the only army that Napoleon brought with him to Egypt. A commission of some 160 savants–scientists, artists, engineers, and scholars–accompanied the invading army, bringing with them virtually every book on Egypt available, dozens of crates of scientific instruments and a printing…

Read More