- Hardcover: 464 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (Oct. 22 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0684837188
- ISBN-13: 978-0684837185
- Product Dimensions: 16.3 x 3.6 x 24.4 cm
- Shipping Weight: 717 g
- Average Customer Review: 20 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #786,183 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science--from the Babylonians to the Maya Hardcover – Oct 22 2002
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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.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
There's no doubt that many cultures both extinct and still thriving contributed to our understanding of the world. Teresi stretches it a bit though by comparing a creation myth to the theory of The Big Bang. Still, the accumulation of evidence and detail is here and, while I think he occasionally gets derailed by political correctness, but he's on target much of the time.
His difficulty is that so much time has passed and there's too little detail for much more ancient claims to be substaniated from the evidence at hand. Still, Teresi's points are well taken and many are quite valid; his point about Copernicus using Mu'ayyad al-Din al-'Urdi's mathematical theorem to help construct the Copernican system sounds valid based on the evidence at hand.
Lost Discoveries isn't a perfect book. Like the best science Teresi uses other scholars and evidence to built his own theory about the roots of modern science. He's too dependent on other researchers and makes a lot of assumptions about their conclusions. He also collates many interesting and obscure facts about other scientists outside of the western world to build his case. The only problem is that we have to assume he's being objective about the facts when, like every journalist, he's subjectively structuring his book to prove his various theories.
Teresi makes a number of very interesting and valid observations. Let's hope that someone else takes up Teresi's lead and can provide more compelling evidence on some of his weaker claims.
So far, Teresi's book has not got as much flak...which is quite heartwarming.
This being the first book of its kind that I have read outside India, I have nothing to compare it with. There are any number of indian publications under the title "Vedic Mathematics", that illustrate the sophistication possible with non-mainstream mathematics. I remember reading a totally original vedic proof of "Pythagoras'" theorem that was elegant, complete and just 3 lines long!
However, the author covers so much ground, and attempts to pack tons of information in a moderately sized book (around 300 pages), that at times the facts come faster than the mind can process. And although he's taken the easy way out by classifying chapters with broad categories, that has lead to a lot of repetition of facts within the book. A more efficient categorization would be by actual elements of discussion - say 1) Algebra 2) Civic Amenities 3)Metallurgy . This way a discourse of the general aspects of a civilization could have been relegated to appendices, and the bok itself would have more of a "tabular" comparison approach. But that's just me.
Kudos to Teresi for the amount of research done for this book. The references list a staggering number of sources, and so much about my own culture (Indian) was revealed to me through this book. Sadly, the text books in India are lame reincarnations and faded copies of books instituted during the British rule. Consequestly, things like the metallurgical supremacy of South India (Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka ) in ancient times (iron-ore mined in Africa was converted to high grade steel in India and later forged into Damascus blades). The fact that India was a pre-eminent power in cotton textiles and silk that were exported all over the ancient world. The british apparently tried, without success, to duplicate this quality , after they started the industrial revolution.
I would totally recommend this book to anyone interested in assigning credit where it is due. And, to those who say "what does it matter?"...it DOES matter to those cultures who have been stripped of pride in their own accomplishments and heritage; Subjugated to sanctions, arm-twisting, and wars that have little justification. Case in point - Baghdad, which was recently bombed, was in fact a medieval center of learning and the modern world owes it a great debt. The region was also host to the ancient Mesopotamian civilizations - Sumerian, Akkadian, etc. I believe that the kind of awareness this book fosters, would reduce some of the short-sightedness that moves people to go out and destroy sites of world heritage.
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