The Ultimate Ambition In The Arts Of Erudition
A Compendium of Knowledge From the Classical Islamic World
By Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri
Edited and translated by Elias Muhanna
318 pp. Penguin Books. Paper, $18.
Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri was a bureaucrat from an elite family in medieval Egypt. Until his retirement, probably in 1316, he served the ruling Mamluk dynasty in various roles, running the sultan’s private treasury, managing imperial properties in Damascus, heading a local chancery in Lebanon, and supervising hospitals and colleges in Cairo. His career coincided with a period of relative stability in the region, as the Mamluks under the sultan al-Nasir Muhammad built a prosperous empire stretching from North Africa into the Levant. At the end of his tenure, al-Nuwayri devoted himself to the task that would define his life, the compilation of a truly gargantuan encyclopedia. Read more