Magazine May 2, 2011, Issue

Eastern Light

Detail of Madame Arithmatica, by Gregor Reisch (Wikimedia)
The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance, by Jim al-Khalili (Penguin, 336 pp., $29.95)

I  used to attend regularly at an office of the New York City government to transact some business with a very pleasant young female African-American city employee. On the wall of her office was a poster listing, in quite small print, all the scores of inventions and discoveries that, according to the poster, African or African-descended peoples had made: the alphabet, the magnetic compass, airplanes, X-rays . . . It used to make me think of the joke current among intellectuals in the late-Stalinist USSR, when the authorities were pushing the idea that Russians had invented or discovered absolutely everything:

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The market functions well enough to bring Walmart to its senses. Alas, for Big Government, there are no such corrective mechanisms.

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