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Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer -- and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets
Synopses & Reviews
The bronze fragments of an ancient Greek device have puzzled scholars for more than a century after they were recovered from the bottom of the Mediterranean Sea, where they had lain since about 80 BC. Now, using advanced imaging technology, scientists have solved the mystery of its intricate workings. Unmatched in complexity for a thousand years, the mechanism functioned as the worlds first analog computer, calculating the movements of the sun, moon, and planets through the zodiac.
In Decoding the Heavens, Jo Marchant details for the first time the hundred-year quest to decode this ancient computer. Along the way she unearths a diverse cast of remarkable characters—ranging from Archimedes to Jacques Cousteau—and explores the deep roots of modern technology, not only in ancient Greece, but in the Islamic world and medieval Europe. At its heart, this is an epic adventure story, a book that challenges our assumptions about technology development through the ages while giving us fresh insights into history itself.
"Marchant, editor of New Science, relates the century-long struggle of competing amateurs and scientists to understand the secrets of a 2000-year-old clock-like mechanism found in 1901 by Greek divers off the coast of Antikythera, a small island near Tunisia. With new research and interviews, Marchant goes behind the scenes of the National Museum in Athens, which zealously guarded the treasure while overlooking its importance; examines the significant contributions of a London Science Museum assistant curator who spent more than 30 years building models of the device; and the 2006 discoveries made by a group of modern researchers using state-of-the-art X-ray. Beneath its ancient, calcified surfaces they found 'delicate cogwheels of all sizes' with perfectly formed triangular teeth, astronomical inscriptions 'crammed onto every surviving surface,' and a 223-tooth manually-operated turntable that guides the device. Variously described as a calendar computer, a planetarium and an eclipse predictor,Marchant gives clear explanations of the questions and topics involved, including Greek astronomy and clockwork mechanisms. For all they've learned, however, the Antikythera mechanism still retains secrets that may reveal unknown connections between modern and ancient technology; this globe-trotting, era-spanning mystery should absorb armchair scientists of all kinds." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
In 1900, a group of divers and archaeologists salvaging an ancient ship fished out a corroded, fragmented box with Greek writing on it and bronze gearwheels arrayed with a sophistication unmatched until the Renaissance. They had found the Antikythera Mechanism, an astronomical computer dating from about 80 B.C. that modeled the motions of the sun, the moon and possibly the planets,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) all by cranking a handle. "Its discovery ... was as spectacular as if the opening of Tutankhamen's tomb had revealed the decayed but recognisable parts of an internal combustion engine," wrote Derek de Solla Price, one of a parade of historians, archaeologists and computer scientists to become obsessed with how the device worked. Jo Marchant tackles the struggle to understand the machine with gusto. That the petty faults and occasional breathtaking inspiration of humans might be more interesting than the stars shouldn't surprise: As Sophocles put it, "Many are the wonders of the world, but none is more wonderful than man." Reviewed by Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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The surprising story behind the 2,000-year-old Antikythera mechanism that challenges our assumptions about what ancient scientists knew, and the technological equipment they used to understand their world.
Marchant details the 100-year quest to decode an ancient Greek computer device. This is the surprising story behind the 2,000-year-old mechanism that challenges modern assumptions about what ancient scientists knew, and the technological equipment they used to understand their world.
About the Author
Jo Marchant is a former editor for Nature magazine and the current editor for New Scientist. She traveled to Athens to research the Antikythera fragments, interviewing most of the people involved in the project. She lives in London.
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