Magazine April 2, 2018, Issue

A Scholar and His Times

Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography, by Robert Irwin (Princeton, 272 pp., $29.95)

Despite never having finished his graduate thesis, Robert Irwin has taught medieval and Islamic history and literature at such places as Oxford, Cambridge, and St. Andrews. Over the decades, he has come to know Ibn Khaldun and the 14th-century world surrounding him very, very well. With this book, he distills his insights so that a reader can get an understanding of Ibn Khaldun on that thinker’s own terms, rather than — as is too common in writing about him — as a precursor to Adam Smith, Durkheim, Marx, or some other popular intellectual figure.

Ibn Khaldun is often presented as something

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