Books that changed the World: A Thousand and One Arabian Nights

Actual photo of Shahrazad, the great heroine of the epic collection of stories

In the 19th century, European explores pushed out into every corner of what was then still a mysterious world. In many places, the Muslim community was closed to outsiders. Non-believes were not welcome in their holy city, Mecca.

Explorer, adventurer and expert swordsman, Sir Richard Burton was by any measure a bold, brave man. He was the first European to discover the source of the Nile, which he dubbed, Lake Victoria. Since he was fluent in Arabic he snuck into Mecca and observed their sacred rites. He also smuggled out the collection of stories, A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.

Arabian Nights became a best seller. The distance between the two cultures snapped together like they were tied by a rubber band.

Stories from it like Alibaba and the Forty Thieves and Aladdin ricocheted through western culture.

The stories are held together by Princess Shahrazad. The king has been betrayed by a former wife. Now he compulsively marries and on the next morning murders his new bride. To stay alive Shahrazad tells him story after story. She leaves him in cliffhangers, and promises to tell him the rest the next evening. In this way she stays alive for a thousand nights and gains his trust and assists him in overcoming his adversaries who have steeped suspicion in the kingdom.

Guns and steel are mere trifles compared to the power of ideas contained in books. If there is to be free trade among us, let the most important commodity be the hopes and dreams that each culture holds dear.

Every great center of culture, be it the United States, Victorian England, Alexandria, Egypt, late 19th century Germany, ancient Rome, Constantinople, either under Christian or Muslim control, the Italian city states of the 1400-1500 hundreds, and hundreds more, they all reached their zenith when they allowed travelers to import new ways and ideas.

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