Book review: Robert Irwin brings 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun back to life in ‘An Intellectual Biography’

Ibn Khaldun’s bibliography is huge, and books about him are constantly published. (Shutterstock)
Updated 13 June 2018
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Book review: Robert Irwin brings 14th century historian Ibn Khaldun back to life in ‘An Intellectual Biography’

  • Irwin avoids the tendency to Westernize his thoughts, and ignores a plausible influence over Machiavelli, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Marx and Durkheim
  • Ibn Khaldun’s ideas are a product of his time, and Irwin places him firmly back in his context, in the Arab world during the 14th century

BEIRUT: More than 600 years after his death, Ibn Khaldun is alive and well. One of the world’s greatest minds, Ibn Khaldun is best known for his masterpiece, “The Muqaddimah” (1377), a book about the principles of history and the rise and fall of dynasties. This all-time classic continues to generate unabated interest.

In 2015 Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg’s new-year resolution was to read an important book every two weeks. For his 11th pick, he chose “The Muqaddimah.” “While much of what was believed then is now disproven after 700 years’ progress, it’s still interesting to see what was understood at the time and the overall world view when it’s all considered together.”

Ibn Khaldun’s bibliography is huge, and books about him are constantly published. The latest on the market is “Ibn Khaldun: An Intellectual Biography.” Its author, Robert Irwin, joins a long list of Ibn Khaldun’s admirers. “It feels as though I have been living with Ibn Khaldun since I first read ‘The Muqaddimah’ as a student in the 1960s. So it was high time that I took a close look at the assumptions and vocabulary that underpinned his thinking. To spend so much time with a polymathic genius has been both demanding and exhilarating,” Irwin said.

This biography is a tour de force. Irwin avoids the tendency to Westernize his thoughts, and ignores a plausible influence over Machiavelli, Hobbes, Montesquieu, Marx and Durkheim. Ibn Khaldun’s ideas are a product of his time, and Irwin places him firmly back in his context, in the Arab world during the 14th century.

To comprehend the nature of his authority and genius, one needs to study Ibn Khaldun in his own time. “It is precisely Ibn Khaldun’s irrelevance to the modern world that makes him so interesting and important. When I read ‘The Muqaddimah,’ I have the sense that I am encountering a visitor from another planet, and that is exciting,” Irwin said.

Irwin, a specialist in medieval Arabic culture, plunges his readers into the adventurous life of one of the greatest Arab thinkers with a remarkable ease and brio. Understanding Ibn Khaldun’s work helps us to cast a fresh and more critical eye on our modern world.


Lebanese designers take over Los Angeles awards show... again

Updated 20 November 2018
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Lebanese designers take over Los Angeles awards show... again

DUBAI: The red carpet at the annual Governors Awards in Hollywood was awash with Middle Eastern gowns as the likes of Rashida Jones, Michelle Yeoh and Lily Collins chose to wear creations by Lebanese designers — proving that the region’s fashion stars are as popular as ever with the who’s who of the film industry.
British-American actress Collins, who starred in 2017’s “To the Bone,” chose a gown by Georges Chakra, with a sparkling purple skirt and off-the-shoulder black bodice for Sunday night’s event in Los Angeles.

(AFP)


Meanwhile, “Parks and Recreation” actress Jones went for a sunset orange kaftan with a peek-a-boo cut out and silver detailing at the neckline by Reem Acra.

(AFP)


For her part, Yeoh, who starred in blockbuster hit “Crazy Rich Asians,” wore an ice blue, figure-hugging gown by Elie Saab, complete with cutouts on the heavily beaded bodice.

(AFP)


The event honoring the careers of film industry legends Tyson, Levy and composer Lalo Schifrin brought some of Hollywood’s biggest names — Oprah, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones, Harrison Ford and Clint Eastwood among them — to the Ray Dolby Ballroom in the heart of Hollywood to reminisce, laugh and schmooze without the pressure, as Hanks said, of “being nervous about who is going to win.”
The Governors Awards celebrate the careers of a few entertainment veterans who have not yet won an Academy Award by bestowing them with an honorary Oscar statuette. Recipients are voted on by the board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
For the 93-year-old Tyson, it was a half lifetime coming. It had been 45 years since her first and only nomination, for “Sounder” in 1972.
“This is a culmination of all those years of haves and have nots,” Tyson said, noting that she’ll be turning 94 next month.
The private, untelevised dinner gala at the Hollywood & Highland complex has also become an important stop on the campaign trail to the Academy Awards for some of the year’s awards hopefuls, making the event one of the most star-studded of the season. In a spin around the room, The Associated Press saw Nicole Kidman chatting with “First Man” director Damien Chazelle, Disney CEO Bob Iger leaving his seat next to Ford to meet Lady Gaga, “Eighth Grade” director Bo Burnham and “Roma” director Alfonso Cuaron deep in conversation, Hanks and Rita Wilson stopping to greet Melissa McCarthy, John Krasinski and Emily Blunt saying hello to Hilary Swank, the cast of “Black Panther” posing for a photo with Marvel chief Kevin Feige and Lin-Manuel Miranda hanging out with the “Crazy Rich Asians” cast and, later, Jonah Hill.
But all turned their full attention to the stage and the titans being honored when the time came. For while the event may be in its 10th year, and the honorary Oscar itself in its 60th, there was still room for a few firsts. Levy became the first member of the public relations branch of the film academy to win an honorary Oscar, while Kennedy became the first woman to win the prestigious Irving G. Thalberg Memorial award — an honor that she shared with her husband and partner Marshall.