Described as a small book about a very large book, The World in a Book: Al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition (Princeton University Press, 2017)...

Described as a small book about a very large book, The World in a Book: Al-Nuwayri and the Islamic Encyclopedic Tradition (Princeton University Press, 2017) by Elias Muhanna tells the story of an encyclopedia, or a universal compendium, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Erudition in Mamluk Egypt, written by Shihab al-Din al-Nuwayri. It covered multiple facets of knowledge, from science to history. He talks to us about his inspiration for the book, the structure, the content, and the context of the Ultimate Ambition, its afterlife in the Muslim and the European world and the role of book history in Middle Eastern history.

Elias Muhanna is the Manning Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Brown University. He earned his doctorate in Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations from Harvard University and has held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the Whiting Foundation. His research focuses on encyclopedic literature in the Islamic world and Europe, the cultural production of the Mamluk Empire, and the problem of the vernacular in different literary traditions. Muhanna’s publications include an abridged translation of al-Nuwayri’s encyclopedia, The Ultimate Ambition in the Arts of Eruditionfor Penguin Classics. He is heavily involved in the digital humanities. He edited The Digital Humanities and Islamic & Middle East Studies (De Gruyter, 2016). He is the creator of the Digital Islamic Humanities Project at Brown, a multi-year initiative that convenes an annual conference and hosts a variety of research activities. He is also a contributing writer for The New Yorker’s online edition, and his essays and criticism have appeared in The New York Times, The NationForeign Policy, and other periodicals. His blog, Qifa Nabki, is a forum for intellectual exchange and debate on Levantine politics.


Nadirah Mansour is a graduate student at Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies working on the global intellectual history of the Arabic-language press. She tweets @NAMansour26 and produces another Middle-East and North Africa-related podcast: Reintroducing.

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