Jonathan Lyons

History. Philosophy. Commentary.

Praise for Jonathan Lyons’s works:

The House of Wisdom: How the Arabs Transformed Western Civilization(Bloomsbury Press, 2009),with foreign language editions: Dutch, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Brazilian, Arabic, Turkish, Indonesian, Korean, Finnish, and Malayalam.

Sophisticated and thoughtful … Mr. Lyons’s narrative is vivid and elegant. Wall Street Journal

Dust will never gather on Jonathan Lyons’ lively new book of medieval history. … Lyons tells his multilayered story deftly, forsaking the tyranny of chronology to flesh out ideas and personalities. Los Angeles Times Book Review

Jonathan Lyons has written a wide-ranging and highly engaging exploration of the intellectual and scientific glories of Islamic civilization…The House of Wisdom reminds us that it wasn’t so very long ago that the shoe was on the other foot. Paul M. Cobb, University of Pennsylvania

The significance of Arab ideas, Lyons argues, has been overlooked due to the West's "willful forgetting" of the Arab legacy. But there is no danger of forgetting the vivid images and arguments in this learned, evocative study. The Independent.


A wonderful and important book which for the first time presents the Western debt to medieval Arabic learning in a clear, accessible manner. From the azimuth to the zenith, from algebra to the zero, so much of what the West takes for granted came to us from the Arab world . . . A fascinating book. William Dalrymple


Lyons tells the story of the House of Wisdom, the caliphs who supported it and the people who worked there, at a riveting, breakneck pace.The Times


In this clear and well-written book, Jonathan Lyons delves into all sorts of musty corners to show how Arabic science percolated into the Latin world in the middle ages and helped civilize a rude society. Guardian



Society for Useful Knowledge: How Benjamin Franklin and Friends Brought the Enlightenment to America (Bloomsbury Press, 2013).


Lyons has done a fine job in giving us a glimpse not just of Franklin the virtuoso but of the world in which he lived and worked, his contemporaries, and their enthusiasmsWeekly Standard


Jonathan Lyons, an engaging storyteller and insightful scholar, conveys the breathtaking sweep of this crucial story with grace and flair, and in the process he provides a compelling and innovative perspective on the American Revolution and the new nation that emerged from that upheaval.John Ferling, author ofThe Ascent of George Washington and Independence: The Struggle to Set America Free.


[A] highly readable account of the societies (the title one, later the American Philosophical Society, being the prototype), academies, mechanics' associations, and other social institutions the group engendered that believed science and experimentation to be collective endeavors, Lyons illuminates a formative period in American cultural history.Booklist


An interview with Jonathan Lyons on WNYC's Leonard Lopate Show here:



Islam through Western Eyes: From the Crusades to the War on Terrorism(Columbia University Press, 2012).


A mercilessly iconoclastic work of intellectual scholarship… Boston Globe


Jonathan Lyons joins the wisdom of a scholar with the knowledge of a journalist in a timely and necessary book. A much-needed light unto the gentiles wishing to understand the truth and consequences of the Arab Spring Lewis H. Lapham, editor, Lapham’s Quarterly.

This is a first-class book: original, significant, and a very timely contribution. Despite the importance of the topic, especially today, I can think of no other study that offers so comprehensive, persuasive, and engaging an analysis. John L. Esposito, Georgetown University, author of What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam

Islam Through Western Eyes is as timely as it is informative, helping us understand the history of understanding—and misunderstanding—between Muslims and non-Muslims over the centuries, patterns that continue today. This is a book that should be read by people of all faiths, not only for edification but also for healing in a religiously fractured world. Mark Juergensmeyer, author of Global Rebellion: Religious Challenges to the Secular State



Answering Only to God: Faith and Freedom in 21st-Century Iran, co-authored with Geneive Abdo (Henry Holt, 2003).


Their reportage, all well contextualized by a use of available scholarly literature on Iranian history and culture, provides a readable … survey of Iran today.  Especially effective are the pages devoted to President Mohammed Khatami, the opposition cleric Ayatollah Hussain-Ali Montazeri, the opposition press, and the poignant account of the few Iranian secularists who, at the time of the Revolution, drafted a liberal constitution but saw their efforts shunted aside by the institutionalized clerical authoritarianism that emerged. Foreign Affairs