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The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist Paperback – January 9, 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
In 1998, the auction house Christie's sold a medieval prayer book for more than $2 million. The price owed to a startling discovery: the prayers had been written over the earliest surviving manuscript of Archimedes (287–212 B.C.), the ancient world's greatest mathematician. In a delightful and fast-paced archeological and scientific detective story, Netz, a Stanford classicist, and Noel, director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, make palpable the excitement this discovery evoked. After the auction, they were given access to study the palimpsest; after frustrating days of trying to read the writings beneath the prayer manuscript, Netz, Noel and a team of scientists and conservators turned to a variety of imaging techniques to reconstruct the hidden Archimedes manuscript, which turned out to be heretofore undiscovered works, Balancing Planes, On Floating Bodies, The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Stomachion, in which Archimedes wrote about topics ranging from gravity to infinity. The manuscript also revealed some lost speeches by Hyperides, one of the 10 canonical orators of antiquity. Netz and Noel's book chronicles the often difficult and demanding work surrounding the preservation of antiquities as they uncover one of the most exciting documents of ancient history. 16 pages of color photos. (Sept.)
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Books & Culture, May/June 2012
“Those outside the academy, as well as teachers—of history, classics, philosophy, and science—should take advantage of books like these to help science take its place as an exciting interdisciplinary field.”
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Top Customer Reviews
Mr. B, the anonymous but known purchaser of what remains of Codex C and the underwriter of the conservation and interpretative work, clearly needs to be recognized for his huge and essential financial contribution.
Does anyone know who Mr. B is?
The alternating chapters on the history and restoration of the manuscript and its mathematical content works wonderfully. Reviel Netz does a great job explaining the geometry and the significance of Archimedes' thought experiments.
The one minor issue I have is the tendency for overstatement. Netz may well be right that nobody before Archimedes (and even Newton) had the same type of thoughts - but the reality is that given the destruction of so many early manuscripts, we simply do not know. I also am less sure than Prof. Netz that Archimedes, the builder of catapaults and other engineering devices and an astronomer, didn't use the physical world to ground his mathematical ideas - thereby accounting for some of his brilliant mathematical ideas. For example, it is not hard to imagine that Archimedes might have been using his geometry to create a heliocentric model - why else the deep interest in parabolas? But then Prof. Netz like all good educators has motivated me to find other expositions of Archimedes and his science.
Regardless, this is a wonderful book, profusely illustrated with both color photographs and diagrams. The authors are also very gracious in acknowledging the work of literally dozens of experts. It will undoubtely inspire a host of fiction writers.
It recounts the scientific detective work, recently completed by some of our greatest scientific minds and technologists, to decipher the only remaining writing from the Ancient World of Archimedes to have survived to the modern world. It was found 'over-written' on an obscure
Medieval vellum 'palimpsest book' that a priest-scribe had copied in 1229 AD, miraculously saving some of the thinking and secrets of the mathematician, Archimedes, perhaps the ancient world's greatest scientist.
Although it encompasses the theories that have so far been discovered in the codex originally written by Archimedes himself in a letter, and thus a fair bit of Mathematics is involved, it can be a very enjoyable experience. You can ignore the parts in which the author explains the technology behind the imaging systems they used to uncover the original texts or the logistics of the processes involved, but then you would have missed a part of the whole adventure.
This book is about unraveling history and discovering its secrets. What a journey indeed !