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Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography

ROBERT IRWIN is a senior research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. His many books include Dangerous Knowledge: Orientalism and Its Discontents and Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics, and the Sixties. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Princeton University Press (First Published, 2019)
272 pages including Bibliography and Index


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Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima. Ibn Khaldun is generally regarded as the greatest intellectual ever to have appeared in the Arab world—a genius who ranks as one of the world’s great minds. Yet the author of the Muqaddima, the most important study of history ever produced in the Islamic world, is not as well known as he should be, and his ideas are widely misunderstood. In this groundbreaking intellectual biography, Robert Irwin provides an engaging and authoritative account of Ibn Khaldun’s extraordinary life, times, writings, and ideas.

Wali al-Din ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) was born in Tunis and in the first half of his life, he held various advisory and bureaucratic roles in the service of the Merinid rulers in Fez, the Hafsids in Tunis, the ‘Abd al-Wadids in Tlemcen, and the Nasrids in Granada. In 1375 he retired to a remote castle in western Algeria where in the course of the next four years he worked on the first draft of the Mugaddima, his book on the principles of history and rise and fall of dynasties. In 1378 he reentered civilization and undertook some teaching in Tunis while consulting its libraries.

He also worked on a lengthy chronicle that followed on from his book on the principles of history. In 1382 he left for Mamluk Egypt. There he held the office of a chief qadi (judge) of the Maliki rite several times and he continued to work expanding and revising what he had already written. In 1400 he had a memorable meeting outside the walls of Damascus with the would-be world conqueror Timur (also known as Tamerlane). Ibn Khaldun died in Cairo and was buried in a Sufi cemetery.

The world historian Arnold Toynbee, who produced a twelve-volume study of the rise and fall of civilizations, described Ibn Khaldun’s theoretical treatise on history, the Muqaddima, as “undoubtedly the greatest work of its kind that has ever been created by any mind in any time or place.”

Weight0.455 kg
Dimensions23.5 × 15.1 × 1.8 cm




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