Rarely have I read a book whose introductory anecdote so well aligns what the
book contains. Moller’s introduction describes the famous mural The School of
Athens designed by Raphael in the Vatican. She notes that the popular
perception of the Renaissance was that those artists and thinkers like Raphael
woke up one fine day, went to a library, re-discovered Classical learning and
— violà — The Renaissance. Suddenly science, math,
architecture, and governance experience a quantum leap and “civilization,” in a
form that the Western modern mind recognizes, returns.
But this is clearly impossible. Knowledge that is not practiced or archived
will be lost. It must be curated, maintained, and transmitted.
One of his most significant achievements was helping to produce the first
English translation of Euclid’s Elements, in 1570. But where had this text
been and who had looked after it in the 2,000 years between Euclid writing it
in Alexandria [and the 16th century]
They had thrived in the Middle East.
As anyone knows who’s played the empire-building video games like
Civilization, first you establish a food supply, then safety as guaranteed by
a professional military, and then you get the low-yield/high-payoff leaps
forward provided by intellectuals. Because this formula had been lost in
religious wars and hamletization in the former territories of the Western
Empire, these books found refuge with inky-fingered scholars and
magnificence-burnishing enlightened Emirs.
Moller shows that over and over when immigration, tolerance, curiosity,
translation and respect thrive under secure conditions, civilization blossoms.