Kitab Al-Hiyal. The Book of Ingenious Devices.

Ibn Shakir, The Banu (Sons of) Musa.

Book ID: 29273


4to. xi, 22 pp., of English text (introduction) + 442 pp., of Arabic text + 20 b/w plates + 103 figures, edited by Ahmad Y. Al-Hassan, with the collaboration of Mohammad Ali Khayyata & Mustafa Tamuri, publisher’s original wrappers, small cut to lower margin of pages 9-12 without loss, slightly rubbed at edges, biblio, index, Sources and Studies in the History of Arabic-Islamic Science. History of Technology, Series No 3. Book published on the occasion of the beginning of the fifteenth century of Hijra. Institute for the History of Arabic Science, University of Aleppo, 1981.


‘ In the Kitab al-Hiyal, three brothers—Muhammad, Ahmad, and al-Hasan bin Musa ibn Shakir, known as the Banu Musa (“sons of Moses”) describe some 100 devices. Sons of a respected astronomer, the brothers were supported by Baghdad’s ruler al-Ma’mun and his successors. Among their other notable projects was an initiative to measure the circumference of the earth, accomplished by walking the distance on a marked route for a one-degree shift in altitude of the Pole Star (which they did at two locations for accuracy). They reported a circumference of 24,000 miles, only slightly less than the modern figure of 24,902 miles. Individually and together, they also published noted treatises on geometry and mathematics, timekeeping, the nature of speech, and other topics.
Written during a period characterised as a “golden age” of Islamic science, engineering, and medical discovery, along with linguistic, philosophical, and cultural advances, the Kitab al-Hiyal differs from scientific manuscripts of the era in its descriptions of useful and practical technologies. The term, “Islamic Golden Age” is of uncertain origin, but has been used widely since scholarship in the 1970s criticised long-standing Western perceptions of the Middle East and Asia as primitive or unscientific’. (Smithsonian Institute).

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