Noteworthy histories . . . briefly considered; The Muslim Discovery of Europe, by Bernard Lewis. New York: W.W. Norton & Co. 350 pp. $19.95.
The Muslim contribution to Europe is important, though often overlooked. The followers of Islam pursued many areas of scholarship which lay dormant in the West, particularly the sciences. When the Christians took Toledo from the Moors in 1105, for example, they were amazed at the works of science and philosophy to be found in the city's libraries. Aristotle and Ptolemy were discovered anew in Europe.
The Crusaders found that the Arabs were not barbarians, but the overseers of a rich cultural heritage, not the least of which was its art, which, due to Muslim scrupples against the portrayal of images of living creatures, abounded in varied and intricate patterns.
''The Muslim Discovery of Europe'' is fascinating because it turns inside out the way in which Westerners are accustomed to look at things. It gives readers a rare glimpse of the Western past through the eyes of a different civilization.
Bernard Lewis, a professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton, assumes that his readers possess no special knowledge of Arab studies. But he never writes down to them. Rather, he informs and instructs. He is a gifted storyteller who has an eye for color as well as accuracy - important attributes for good history writing.