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Cradle of Intellect
Photo: Diego Ortega
Three cities shaped Western civilization:  Rome, Athens, and Alexandria, Egypt. The first two cities excelled in war and trade. The third focused on the mind.

Recently published, “The Rise and Fall of AlexandriaBirthplace of the Modern Mind” (Viking, 2006) documents the legacy of a city that had a profound impact on life as we know it. Authors Justin Pollard and Howard Reid point out that it was scholars in Alexandria that:

  • realized that the earth was not flat

  • invented geometry

  • built the steam engine

  • invented latitude and longitude, drawing the first accurate maps of the world

Powerhouse of Enlightenment and Progress

“Founded in 332 BC by Alexander the Great, king of Macedon, pupil of Aristotle, and conqueror of the world, Alexandria was a powerhouse of enlightenment and progress. Famous for having the greatest library of antiquity, where all the knowledge of the ancient world was gathered together—at its zenith, the library was said to contain three quarters of a million scrolls—it proved an intellectual magnet for the world’s finest scholars, philosophers, poets, and inventors.

“Egyptians, Greeks, Jews, Babylonians, Persians, Gauls, Phoenicians, and Romans flocked to it, stimulating huge advances in mathematics, geometry, philosophy, and religion. The Bible was translated into Greek, Jewish theology was formulated, and early Christianity was transformed from an obscure, rebellious religious cult into a fully formed theological creed. Here the true foundations of the modern world were laid—not in stone, but in ideas.”

With extensive experience in British and American television, Pollard and Reid tell the gripping tale of a city where diversity developed a synergy rarely paralleled in the history of earth. With so much working, “it is a terrible irony that here too the seeds of religious extremism were sown, seeds that emerged in the form of early Christian and Muslim militant fanaticism, both of which eventually destroyed first the intellectual then the physical fabric of the city itself.”

Anyone concerned about the future should read this book and ponder the parallels to current history. As a wise person once observed, “Those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat the lessons.”

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