• Ibn Khaldun

  • An Intellectual Biography
  • By: Robert Irwin
  • Narrated by: John Telfer
  • Length: 9 hrs and 34 mins
  • 3.9 out of 5 stars (66 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

The definitive account of the life and thought of the medieval Arab genius who wrote the Muqaddima

Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406) 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. 

Irwin tells how Ibn Khaldun, who lived in a world decimated by the Black Death, held a long series of posts in the tumultuous Islamic courts of North Africa and Muslim Spain, becoming a major political player as well as a teacher and writer. Closely examining the Muqaddima, a startlingly original analysis of the laws of history, and drawing on many other contemporary sources, Irwin describes how Ibn Khaldun's life and thought fit into historical and intellectual context, including medieval Islamic theology, philosophy, politics, literature, economics, law, and tribal life. Because Ibn Khaldun's ideas often seem to anticipate by centuries developments in many fields, he has often been depicted as more of a modern man than a medieval one, and Irwin's account of such misreadings provides new insights about the history of Orientalism.

In contrast, Irwin presents an Ibn Khaldun who was a creature of his time - a devout Sufi mystic who was obsessed with the occult and futurology and who lived in an often-strange world quite different from our own.

©2018 Robert Irwin (P)2018 Princeton University Press

Critic Reviews

"A compelling new account of the 14th-century Arab historian and polymath.... Irwin has produced an exemplary work." (Gavin Jacobson, Financial Times)

"Irwin wears his immense erudition lightly and gives an often very funny account of how orientalists, historians, and modern Arab nationalist have interpreted Ibn Khaldun’s most famous work.... Irwin offers his readers a superb work of intellectual recovery, one which presents Ibn Khaldun as a creature of his time.... He has resurrected for us the medieval Muslim mind." (Francis Ghilès, The Spectator)

"In Robert Irwin, Ibn Khaldun has finally found a biographer and interpreter almost as versatile and learned as he was himself." (Eric Ormsby, Wall Street Journal)

What listeners say about Ibn Khaldun

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    2 out of 5 stars
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Issues with accuracy, pronounciation

This book would have received a higher rating if the author had spent more time learning Arabic, or perhaps reviewed translation before producing his own. In Chapter one he quotes the Qur'an 17:16 in an entirely lopsided manner, confusing what fafasaku means in the context. Not a single Qur'anic translation, Muslim or otherwise had confused it in the way he did, where as his version says that God has ordered the people to be bad, the actual verse says they did ill DESPITE receiving commandments from God. How could he has so thoroughly corrupted the verse is embarrassing and says a lot about the author.

Also, he criticizes some of Ibn Khaldun's theories without taking into context what was known at the time. Such as his idea heat is produced as a result of reflections of light, not of distance to the sun. A good idea why he might have thought that is how mountains are snow capped, same with alexander's submarine, he wouldve had no idea that a person could suffocate from being trapped in a room with no air from outside, his idea that heat would be the primary cause of mortality is a result of direct observation that the air you exhale is hotter than that which you inhale.

24 people found this helpful

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Disappointing

The author sets out to bulldoze the perhaps overblown and overrated Ibn Khaldun, yet concerns himself almost exclusively with trifles. Rather than an intellectual biography of Ibn Khaldun, we see something more akin to an exercise of the author's intllectual vanity. A great chunk of the book is concerned with Ibn Khaldun's pre-modern and highly idiosyncratic ideas, from his ignorance of meteorological phenomena, to his almost provincial turtling into religious handwaving to dismiss sophists and philosophers.

In a field crammed with praise for the man, the author somehow overstresses the goofier aspects of Ibn Khaldun's thought. A small and derisive tone pervades throughout. Ironically, for so much commentary on bad translations by others, the author deploys his own idiosyncratic (wrong) translation of Quran 17:16, a translation that states that god /commands/ the wealthy and powerful of the cities he wishes to destroy to do evil, when in fact no other version could I find renders the passage this way. Instead, every translation is to the effect that the elite are commanded to do /good/, yet continue to transgress. A bit embarrassing, really.

Rather than a secondary treatment of the man, his works and his times, I feel like the book is more a hit job, not that Ibn Khaldun did not deserve a bit of a hit, but the result is dissapointing in that I feel I've learned very little—the worst sin a book can commit.

2 people found this helpful

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Ibn Khaldun Summed Up Well

Ibn Khaldun's writings, thoughts, and his time are well summed up. Includes modern scholarship on the North African intellectual and his influences today.

1 person found this helpful

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Big disappointment

I've been curious about Ibn Khaldun for years and expected this book to be more helpful in understanding his life and work than diving into the original texts (or more likely excerpts). I'm persuaded that Irwin know his stuff but it's not clear who he is writing for. For someone who already knows Ibn Khaldun's work and the history of his times, his comments could be interesting (but perhaps superficial). For a general reader like me, he offers a more or less random mix of comments on aspects of Ibn Khaldun's work and references to historical figures of the period mixed in with quotes from Gibbon, modern historians, Frank Herbert etc. I don't have any complaints about the reading but I'm not qualified to comment on the pronunciation.

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Awful audio of an otherwise decent work.

I am a fan of Irwin’s work, an orientalist of remarkable erudition, and I was truly looking forward to this new work. Two hours into the audio, and I’m sad to say it is way below sub-par and I must let it go. The narrator mangles simple common Arabic words beyond recognition; his pronunciation of commonplace Arabic surnames as if they were French (specifically using the French “r” for what reason I have no idea) is inexplicable and frankly jarring; sometimes his reading of foreign/Arabic or Persian terms is so annoyingly halting it sounds as if entire phrases and passages have been recorded over. I will try to give the print book a shot, but this audio is definitely not a good sign. Irwin is a thoughtful meticulous scholar; his writing is illuminating, compelling, witty; this audio is godawful and renders Ibn Khaldun unapproachable. I can’t believe Princeton would approve the production of such a shoddy rendition of an eminent scholar’s work. DO NOT BUY!

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  • S. Sandhu
  • 04-10-20

Wrong voice for audible

I was looking forward to listening to this audio book, but it was spoilt by the reader. His mispronunciation of Arabic words is beyond belief. Whenever he read an Arabic word, it was so irritating. Could the author of the book not find anyone better?

Apologies for being so harsh, but a disservice has been done here. Instead of learning about a great historical figure, I was so distracted by the quality of reading.

Please consider re-recording this. My review is based on the first 30 minutes. I'm not sure I can carry on listening.

6 people found this helpful

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  • R. Saeed
  • 03-15-20

Good but one serious let down

Great book, as many other reviews will testify, but the performance was poor, specifically the awful pronunciation of Arabic terms, which the book is littered with. can't blame the narrator, he did his best, it's the publishers that need to be more sensible.

4 people found this helpful

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  • Hasnain Nurdin
  • 02-07-22

Good listen this

Ok so this is good and I leant a lot from this about the life of Ibn Khaldun, my only criticism is that the narrator could have been an native Arab speaker so pronunciation of the Arab words would sound more authentic and accurate other than this it's good

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  • Arfan Dad
  • 07-30-21

Poor Audio, derogatory tone of reader spoils book

John Telfer is a very poor choice as narrator of this audiobook. His tone and attitude is inconsistent with that of the writers. Telfer's appalling pronunciation of non English words further demonstrates his ignorance and underlines how he failed to grasp the essence of this book. Very disappointed. Couldn't listen past first half an hour. A prompt refund was given by Audible and the book was thankfully returned!

1 person found this helpful

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  • E. Clark
  • 03-02-22

a very negative view of Ibn Khaldun

I became curious about Ibn Khaldun and his ideas, wanted to know more. Bought this book on audible as I like to move when I learn things. I have a science background and agnostic. This is an interesting book about Ibn Khaldun's life, ideas, history of the times and conditions he lived in. I am not familiar with this era so I found it particularly fascinating. I have no issue with the reader John Telfer. He has a nice voice and reads very clearly. I don't mind if he is not pronouncing certain Arab words perfectly.

What makes me cringe about this book is the writer's attitude towards Ibn Khaldun. Majority of the book seems very negative towards Ibn Khaldun. Debunking his views, writings, pointing out any kind of short comings. For example book starts with Ibn Khaldun saying sun is warmer closer to earth's surface, gets colder as we get away. From his perspective probably this was true. He noticed in low areas it is warmer, as you go up in the mountains it gets colder. So he concludes that this is the case. Of course with today's science we know this wasn't the case. But how did we reach this seemingly simple piece of information? It took years of scientific research, which is easily available for anybody to find out today. It is irrelevant he gets something like this wrong. It doesn't mean he was an unreliable person who got most things wrong. Today it is so easy to access so much information. 700 years ago this was not the case. Not only it was a lot more difficult to reach info back then, writing certain ideas could get you very easily killed. If he was as truthful and headstrong as the writer expects from him, probably he wouldn't live long and we would have no idea such a person even lived. Writer I believe is very harsh in evaluating his work and character. Portrays him as a calculating, disloyal, morally questionable person with very little regard to his Sufi beliefs, strength of his religious thoughts and the times he was living in. He was a human being, he tried to fit in. He also made justifications in his mind to be able to continue to believe his religion. I don't but a lot of people do that and I understand why they do this. There were several occasions Ibn Khaldun could have chosen the easier path but he didn't. I think he had an idealistic side in him. I believe when he was younger he wanted to create an islamic utopia, where there was a better system of government, a reliable system, which was fair and successful. He stayed close to governing class and tried to nudge things into the direction he wanted. It seems to me as he got older he realised this is impossible. Human nature is against it. this was his view, his conclusion. We may or may not agree but hard to conclude that he was a morally weak person. His conclusions were based on his interactions with others, observations, readings, psychology, experiences, major personal losses he experienced. A biography which is so against to its subject feels hard to read.

If the book was very positive towards its subject I might also have had a problem with it but this is way too negative to be perceived as fair.

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  • Dennis Sommers
  • 02-13-21

Such a useful perspective!

I was very pleasantly surprised to find this book at all. I’ve Kaldoon is as much a world classic as Beds or Eusebius and yet all we have is this introduction, however useful and informative. It has the very great merit of placing the reader fairly and squarely within the Islamic world of the Middle Ages when half a dozen books deal with the reconuest of Spain. Accounts of his life and it’s political and social environment are unique inAudible: Ibn Batutah and vIbn Fadlam, available in Penguin, are represented by a few minutes taken from an anthology about world exploration when both should have been been recorded years ago, so leet’s have them both please, and an edition of excerpts from this guy!

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 03-08-20

Perfect if studying it at uni,but no casual listen

It's not a bad book per se, just too scholarly for what I'm looking for

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  • Ed L
  • 01-20-20

Fabulous

An interesting and balanced interpretation of the life and times of Ibn Khaldun. Enjoyable listening.

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  • Just me
  • 09-24-19

GREAT BIOGRAPHY

it is great to be able to have this as an audio book. a lot of work goes into creating story telling of this amazing character in history of islam. the narrator is awesome and really enjoyable to listen to.