MESA Book Awards
University of Pittsburgh
2021 Albert Hourani Book Award Honorable Mention
Polymaths of Islam: Power and Networks of Knowledge in Central Asia
Cornell University Press
All intellectual histories of early Islam feature prominently Central Asian urban centers such as Bukhara. At some point, however, the region disappears from the overall narrative. Pickett’s book is a remarkable study of Central Asian Islamic scholarship in the nineteenth century, after the region’s entrance into Russia’s sphere of influence but before the radical dislocations caused by Soviet rule. The book draws on Russian-language secondary scholarship and primary sources in various languages, including many obscure ones; almost every page yields new revelations. Pickett elevates Central Asia of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to its rightful place as a significant part of the Persianate world of the time (besides Iran and India). But the book also serves as an epitaph to a lost world that was eradicated in the Soviet era.