Ibn al Haytham - The First Scientist - Alhazen - Ibn al Haitham - Alhacen  
Arabic for Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al Haytham, the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Ahazen, Ahacen, or Alhazeni.
Cover of Ibn al Haytham - First Scientist by Bradley Steffens, the world's first biography of the eleventh-century Muslim scholar known in the West as Alhazen, Alhacen, Alhazeni.

    "A fantastic book, written in a 
brilliant manner."
Haitham Hamad

"A great read."
Brian Francis Neary    

"Steffens has the unique ability
of a storyteller that makes the reading of his book as
interesting as a spy thriller
, unfolding the events in Ibn
al-Haytham’s life like the clues being discovered by a forensic detective
Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America 

Critical Acclaim for Ibn al Haytham - First Scientist

Journal of the Islamic Medical Association of North America
, March, 2010: “A true scientist, ibn al-Haytham pioneered scientific inquiry, experimentation, debate, and discussion. He emphasized that valid experimentation was necessary before any authentic conclusions could be reached.
Bradley Steffens in his recent biography of this great Muslim scientist gives him the credit of being the first true scientist of the human civilization. He states that ibn al-Haytham practiced and exemplified these ideals during his tumultuous life. That ibn al-Haytham was generations ahead of his time is evident when you read this lucid and fascinating biography. Steffens has a unique ability of a storyteller that makes the reading of his book as interesting as a spy thriller, unfolding the events in ibn al-Haytham’s life like the clues being discovered by a forensic detective. I was so fascinated by this rendition that I have yet to read a biography in a shorter time in my life. I finished the book from cover to cover in just under four hours! This book is a must read for anyone who wishes to learn about a forgotten chapter in history and enjoys the true spirit of inquiry and is an eternal seeker of truth. —Dr. Husain F. Nagamia. Read the complete review here.

The Fountain, May-June, 2008: I congratulate Bradley Steffens for his beautiful work about Ibn al-Haytham and his advancement of experimental science. Dr. Ertan Salik Read the complete review here.

Booklist, November 15, 2006: Ibn al-Haytham (“Alhazen” in Library of Congress cataloging) was born in Basra in 965. A Muslim who studied the works of Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, and Ptolemy, he developed an approach to science using experimentation and deduction and made significant observations and discoveries, particularly in the field of optics. Translations of his books influenced medieval European scientists and mathematicians from Bacon to Fermat to Kepler. Steffens notes that al-Haytham’s discovery of the camera obscura may have changed western art as well. Steffens has organized what is known of his subject’s life and work into a coherent narrative. He is quick to acknowledge gaps but backs up inferences logically. Like the history of mathematics, the history of science is incomplete without an acknowledgment of early scholars in the Middle East. This clearly written introduction to Ibn al-Haytham, his society, and his contributions does that. —Carolyn Phelan

Kirkus Reviews, December 1, 2006: In this clearly written, carefully reasoned profile, Steffens not only traces the scantly documented life of one of early modern science’s giants (better known in Europe as Alhazen), but also places him both within the broader contexts of early Muslim society, and of the whole history of science. A prolific writer who spent most of his life in Basra and Cairo, Ibn al Haytham is chiefly remembered today for his work in optics, and as an exponent of enquiry through direct, repeatable experimentation rather than inductive reasoning alone. Along with easy-to-understand discussions of his achievements, readers will find a speculative but credible character study of a devout, brilliant polymath who was rather conveniently subject to mysterious bouts of mental illness that twice rescued him from onerous government jobs. The many color pictures enhance this illuminating narrative with maps, diagrams, prints, and images of illustrated manuscript pages.

Midwest Book Review, March 6, 2007: An unusual survey of a scientific pioneer who lived from 950 to 1040 and whose work fostered several scientific and mathematical fields from physics to astronomy and geometry. Chapters consider his life, achievements, and experimental processes in this fine blend of history and science biography.

Children's Literature, May 15, 2007: Right now many schools and libraries have an acute need for books accurately portraying Arab history and culture. Fortunately, Steffen's biography of the remarkable medieval scientist-philosopher Ibn al-Haytham goes a long way towards filling that need. Born in the city of Basra, Iraq, in 965 A.D., Ibn al-Haytham grew up in an intellectually vibrant and ethnically mixed society. Though a devout Muslim, he was also an avid student of Greek philosophy. An encounter with Aristotle's works as a student led him to believe that physical science and mathematics were as valuable in unlocking the mysteries of the universe as theology. Throughout his life he devised various experiments to test his observations of the physical world. Though his conclusions were not always correct, he did make some amazing discoveries related to the study of vision. His Book of Optics, written between 1011 and 1021, still stands as a classic example of the scientific method at work. Steffens deftly weaves an overview of Muslim history into this biography. His explanation of the differences between Shi'ah and Sunnah Muslims is especially welcome in the light of recent history. Some might quibble with his contention that Ibn al-Haytham was the world's first scientist, an accolade that has often gone to others, notably Aristotle himself. No one, however, can dispute Ibn al-Haytham's unique contributions to science in both Islam and western culture. A time line and bibliography are included. Numerous illustrations from Arab and European sources enhance the text. This book is part of Morgan Reynold's "Profiles in Science" series. It would make an excellent supplement to units about world history and the history of science.—Pat Sherman

Tri State Young Adult Review Committee, March 2007: Recommended where the history of mathematics and science is a priority. Steffens provides an overview of Muslim and Arab influence including the use of zero, the advent of algebra, and the vast library called the House of Wisdom containing the translations of Roman and Greek works into Arabic. The life of Ibn al-Haitham, now known as Alhazen. The story of Alhazen is fascinating with his travels, great insights, and his longevity. Excellent for students.—Lois McNicol

School Library Journal, July 2007: A profile of a mathematician, physicist, and astronomer born in Basra, in what is now Iraq, in 965 C.E. The text vacillates between relating the life of this multifaceted scientist and digressing into lengthy accounts about the time in which he lived. The opening chapter describes the Arab Muslims and their mass migration with a sprinkling of references to Ibn al-Haytham's boyhood. While the historical background is informative, it may lose readers expecting a more biographical account. Steffens credits the man as a pioneer of the scientific method, citing his emphasis on testing hypotheses through experimentation. The most engaging chapter introduces The Book of Optics, a groundbreaking treatise on vision and light. Most of the scientist's other works are mentioned only briefly.Intriguingly, the author speculates that Ibn al-Haytham may have faked madness so he could be released from a government post to pursue his research. Steffens informs readers of the sparseness of information available about his subject and indicates when he is making assumptions.He also incorporates how religion played a part in the man's life. Boxed entries about related topics appear throughout. All quotations are documented in the source notes. The well-placed reproductions and detailed captions add interest and additional facts. This book will circulate best where students seek short biographies on people of varied cultures for reports.–Linda L. Plevak, Bulverde/Spring Branch Library, Spring Branch, TX

Children's Literature, April 15, 2007: Born in Basra, in what is now Iraq, in 965 A.D., Abu ‘Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytham revolutionized the practice of science. His tribal name, Abu ‘Ali, indicates his ancestors were Arabs. He was a follower of the teachings of the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad. His early education took place at the mosque of Basra, where he studied theology and the nature of God and religious truth. As a devout Muslim, he spent most of his life trying to know and serve his God. However, he found in Aristotle a kindred spirit and an intellectual equal. Some say that Ibn al-Haytham received an appointment within the Muslim government as either a financial minister or revenue administrator. Other historians believe he might have been a civil engineer, in charge of public works projects. He wasn’t content with his role, however, and, some believe, thought up a scheme to simulate insanity. Whether real or fake, his mental breakdown removed him from his duties in the government, and allowed him to return to pursuits of mathematics, geometry, and philosophy. His studies must have been successful, for he was summoned to Egypt to build a dam on the Nile. The Egyptian leader was impressed with Ibn al-Haytham, and agreed to give him all the money and workers he would need. When he reached al-Janadil, he knew it would be the ideal place for a dam, but the scope of the project would exceed his resources. Nine hundred years later, the Egyptian government would build a dam across the Nile in that very place. The Book of Optics is Ibn al-Haytham’s most important work. Although there are crucial discoveries in the book, the way he arrived at and supported these discoveries is most significant. Although his achievements faded into history, at the beginning of the twentieth century scholars found his works, and now celebrate the contributions of this Iraqi scholar.—Karen Werner

Skulls in the Stars, March 2008: Steffens has written a wonderfully clear and concise account of al-Haytham’s life and work. Although the book is primarily intended for a young adult audience (hence the conciseness), it also serves as a nice stepping stone for authors (such as me) who would like an overview of his accomplishments before delving into the academic accounts. The quality of the book is excellent. It is wonderfully typeset and contains many full-color illustrations that bring the era and the science to life. It is also contains an excellent collection of references for further research. Read the complete review here.

To see reviews of Steffens' other books, click here.

To read a sample chapter of Ibn al-Haytham: First Scientist click here.



Copyright © 2008 by Bradley Steffens

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