First Scientist: Ibn al-Haytham


Author       :Bradley Steffens

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Award-winning author Bradley Steffens introduces Ibn al-Haytham in this first full biography ever written about him. Though not a household name as far as the history of science goes, with his major contributions going largely unnoticed and uncredited, Ibn al-Haytham, who lived a thousand years ago, is finally being recognized as the world’s first true scientist.

Centuries before better-known researchers such as Roger Bacon, Leonardo da Vinci, and Galileo Galilei were born, Ibn al-Haytham investigated eyesight and the propagation of light in a profound manner, the likes of which had never before been fully utilized, and documented his findings in his magnum opus Book of Optics. By systematically using experiments to test his hypotheses, Ibn al-Haytham changed the course of human history, giving humankind a new and effective way of establishing facts about the natural world—an approach known today as the scientific method.


Bradley Steffens

Bradley Steffens is a novelist, poet, and award-winning author of more than sixty nonfiction books for young adults. He is a two-time recipient of the San Diego Book Award for Best Young Adult Nonfiction. His Giants won the 2005 award and his People in the News: J.K. Rowling garnered the 2007 prize. J.K. Rowling also received the Theodor S. Geisel Award for the best published book by a San Diego County author in 2007. Steffens’ first novel, The Prisoner of Al-Hakim, based on the life of Ibn al-Haytham, was published by Blue Dome Press in 2017. Physicist, author, and BBC broadcaster Jim Al-Khalili calls The Prisoner of Al-Hakim “a gripping story based on real-life events that is fizzing with adventure and rich in accurate historical and scientific nuggets.”


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1 review for First Scientist: Ibn al-Haytham

  1. Blue Dome


    In the age of islamophobia in which Islam and Muslims are perceived as a
    potential threat to the so-called civilized world, a discourse on the Muslim
    contribution to knowledge and scientific thinking brings in some fresh air in
    an otherwise intellectually polluted environment. Bradley Stiffen’s absorbing
    and remarkable contribution to the history and philosophy of science is not
    a mere biography of Ibn al-Haytham, it provides an authentic information
    resource on the golden age in which Muslim scientists made revolutionary
    contributions as leaders in the applied sciences.

    Ibn al-Haytham, with his encyclopaedic knowledge, was the first person
    to accurately describe the physics behind the projection of images through
    apertures, which led to the development of film camera and even the digital
    camera. As the first modern scientist, he pioneered experimental science
    around six hundred years before Galileo Galilei and four hundred years before
    Leonardo da Vinci (p. 7).

    Ibn al-Haytham was fully aware of the limitations of human sensory
    perception, observation, and investigation. Premises are gleamed from the
    senses, and the latter which are our tools are not immune from error (p. 9). But
    this did not cause Ibn al-Haytham to adopt the way of thinking of the skeptics
    or agnostics. Rather, it led him to adopt an exploratory approach for new
    ways to establish the validity of observation and rational and logical thinking.
    His Kitab al-Manazir became the basis of scientific development in Europe
    through its Latin translation. Ibn al-Haytham mastered mathematics and
    studied Euclid’s most famous book Elements on geometry. He summarized
    and analysed Euclid’s writings, recognizing him as his guide.

    As a keen learner, he studied the works of Archimedes and wrote a commentary
    criticizing the logic he used to reach his conclusions. He also studied Claudius
    Ptolemy’s work, particularly the Almagest, which he summarized, but he was
    critical of his views and planned to write a commentary based on his criticism.
    His books covered a wider range of topics as their titles indicate: Business
    Arithmetic, Determination of the Altitude of Mountains, Determination of the Heights
    of Pole with the Greatest Precision; On the Altitudes of the Triangles; On the Principles
    of Measurement. He even contributed a scholarly work, On the Construction of the
    Water Clock. He also claimed that he could build a system of dams, levees and
    canals that would prevent the Nile from overflowing in the fall and, in this
    way water, may be saved for irrigation in summer.

    The problem-solving approach of Ibn al-Haytham make him a leader in
    the use of technology for sustainable development. This volume by Bradley
    Steven deserves appreciation for highlighting the greatness of the revolutionary
    contribution made by Ibn al-Haytham and also adds to the evidence of
    Muslim contributions in the world of knowledge. It also dispels the myth
    that scientific thought originated in the West just as it proves that there is no
    conflict between faith and science. The book is essential for all those interested
    in Islamic science and its history.

    Anis Ahmad
    Riphah International University, Pakistan
    The Muslim World Book Review, 42:3, 2022

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