From School Library Journal
Adult/High School-Prior to the invention of the compass, a merchant or sailor who wished to cross a large body of water was forced to navigate by studying the winds and stars or by never sailing out of the sight of land. Long ocean voyages were impossible and even sailing the Mediterranean could be a lengthy and hazardous voyage. The compass changed all of this. Mariners could now strike out on an azimuth and have a reasonable chance of arriving at their destination. This led to the Age of Exploration and the expansion of the European kingdoms into economic empires. Yet as important as the compass is, its origins are shrouded in mystery. The small town of Amalfi, Italy, claims to be the birthplace of the inventor of the compass, but China has an even stronger case. Aczel examines the myths, legends, and facts behind the dispute and provides a logical, although not indisputable, conclusion on which nation can claim the compass as its own. He also provides a layman's overview of the development of navigation from the earliest days to the 15th century. Although the author is primarily known for his scientific books, Riddle of the Compass contains little or no jargon and a minimum of scientific terminology. A worthwhile and interesting addition.
Robert Burnham, R. E. Lee High School, Springfield, VA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Despite its brevity, this book covers its topic completely. In this detailed history, Aczel (God's Equation; Bentley Coll.) takes us back in time to Amalfi, Italy, where between 1295 and 1302 the compass as we know it was developed. Aczel points out, however, that the actual discovery of materials that followed magnetic lines, or at least consistently pointed in a specific direction (south), is attributed to the Chinese in 1040. The story of the compass is also the story of navigation, which the author admirably combines. Debunking the myth that sailors followed the coastlines of countries until they met their desired location, the author describes how they navigated the open seas using the sun, stars, wind, and even the migration of birds. While this book is not a page-turner, it is an accurate account of the important historical events that lead to the compass's development. Tellingly, Aczel grew up on a ship and was navigating straits in the Mediterranean long before he could drive a car. Recommended for public as well as academic libraries whose readers want to go beyond the account generally given in an encyclopedia.- James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ., Chicago
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.