Wonders and Rarities: The Marvelous Book That Traveled the World and Mapped the Cosmos by Travis Zadeh - review by Robert Irwin

Robert Irwin

In the Land of the Waqwaq Tree

Wonders and Rarities: The Marvelous Book That Traveled the World and Mapped the Cosmos


Harvard University Press 464pp £34.95 order from our bookshop

Travis Zadeh’s Wonders and Rarities is a wide-ranging and enchanting study of Zakariyya’ al-Qazwini, a 13th-century Iranian cosmographer and geographer. Zadeh acknowledges numerous scholars at the back of the book and concludes with a note about his own inspirational visits to India, where the Western Ghats have been a source of rejuvenation, where wisps of cloud rise up over the valley across the towering table land, surrounded by mangoes, bananas, and jackfruit, with parrots and langurs among the fronds. The monsoon brings a remarkable peace, if at times sorrow, with its steady rain … But now, many miles removed, so much of it seems but an intangible dream from some distant land.

The acknowledgements are preceded by sixty-two pages of small-print bibliographic notes. These include references to such choice scholarly articles and books as ‘The Ear-Sleepers. Some Permutations of a Traveler’s Tale’, ‘Scottish Freemasonry in Ottoman Izmir’, ‘Did Alexander the Great Discover America?’ and Early Tantric Medicine. The notes are a wonder in themselves. How can any man have read so much?

Al-Qazwini, who was born in Qazvin in what is now Iran and served as a qadi in Wasit, Iraq, was famous throughout the Islamic world for two works, a topography, Athar al-bilad (‘Monuments of Places’), and a cosmography, Aja’ib al-makhluqat wa ghar’ib al-mawjudat (‘Wonders of Creation and Rarities of

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Art of Darkness

Cambridge, Shakespeare

Follow Literary Review on Twitter