Did Nicolas Copernicus steal his notion that the earth orbited the sun from an Islamic astronomer who lived three centuries earlier? "The jury is still out," writes Dick Teresi, whose intriguing survey of the non-Western roots of modern science offers several worthy arguments that Copernicus in fact ripped off Nasir al-Din al-Tusi. Common belief is that Westerners have been the mainspring of most scientific and technical achievement, but in Lost Discoveries
Teresi shows that other cultures had arrived at much of the same knowledge at earlier dates. The Babylonians were using the Pythagorean theorem at least 15 centuries before Pythagoras drew his first triangle, and in A.D. 200 a Chinese mathematician calculated an incredibly accurate value for pi. The Mayans and other Mesoamericans were outstanding sky watchers and stargazers. The greatest advances occurred in math and astronomy, though Teresi also devotes chapters to physics, geology, chemistry, technology, and even cosmology. Sometimes he is a bit overeager to ascribe great thoughts to long-dead people (he casually suggests that "many ancient cultures had inklings of quantum theory"), but on the whole his book is a reliable and fascinating guide to the unexplored field of multicultural science. --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Science journalist Teresi (coauthor of The God Particle) has combed the literature to catalogue the scientific advances made by early non-Western societies and to determine their impact on Western science. His work spans millennia and encompasses the full extent of the globe. He points out, for example, that five millennia ago the Sumerians concluded that the earth was round. He also provides information on cultures of the Middle East, India, China, Africa and Oceania, as well as a host of New World cultures, predominately those of Mesoamerica. Throughout, readers learn that scientific knowledge of various sorts in diverse forms has been a part of all cultures. In chapters on mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, physics, geology, chemistry and technology, Teresi makes a convincing argument that Western science has often been indebted to advances made elsewhere (mineralogy was studied in Africa as early as 5000 B.C.). Teresi is at his strongest in the section on mathematics, where he discusses the evolution of Arabic numerals from the ancient Indians and the earliest conceptualizations of zero and infinity. Much less compelling are his assertions that early societies foreshadowed the ideas of quantum mechanics. Although a bit uneven, Teresi offers a great deal of fascinating material largely ignored by many histories of science.
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