The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World

Overview

Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly the mariners in Amalfi in the twelfth century were. Here the compass was first invented and used in navigation, eventually helping to make Italians the world's greatest sailors.
But the story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth. It begins in ancient China around the birth of Christ. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Emperor. This piece of metal suspended in water ...

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1st Edition, VG+/Fine 1/4" coffee? spot on fore-edge page ends at bottom corner, clean, tight & bright. No ink names, tears, chips, etc. Price unclipped. ISBN 0151005060 Rest ... of book in Fine condition. Read more Show Less

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Overview

Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly the mariners in Amalfi in the twelfth century were. Here the compass was first invented and used in navigation, eventually helping to make Italians the world's greatest sailors.
But the story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth. It begins in ancient China around the birth of Christ. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Emperor. This piece of metal suspended in water always pointed north and was put to excellent use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians who unleashed the compass's formidable powers on ships at sea.

Throughout the ancient world, sailors navigated by wind, and stars, and the routes of migrating birds, but bad weather and winter storms impeded their travels. When the compass migrated to Italy, the modern world began: Venice, trade with the East, the Age of Discovery. The compass made it all possible, and this is its fascinating story.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
In lucid prose, the author explains both the 12th-century Italian invention of the compass and this life-saving instrument's extraordinary prehistory. Especially fascinating is Aczel's description of a mysterious ancient Chinese antecedent of this seafarers' device.
From the Publisher
Praise for Fermat's Last Theorem
This is a captivating volume. Equally important is the sense of awe that Mr. Aczel imparts for the hidden, mystical harmonies of numbers, and for that sense of awe alone, his slender volume is well worth the effort."-The New York Times

While avoiding technical details, Aczel maps the strange, beautiful byways of modern mathematical thought in ways the layperson can grasp."-Publishers Weekly

For more than three centuries, Fermat's Last Theorem was the most famous unsolved problem in mathematics; here's the story of how it was solved."-Kirkus Reviews

New York Times
Aczel imparts for the hidden, mystical harmonies of numbers, and for that sense of awe alone, his slender volume is well worth the effort.
From The Critics
Aczel imparts for the hidden, mystical harmonies of numbers, and for that sense of awe alone, his slender volume is well worth the effort.
Library Journal
Despite its brevity, this book covers its topic completely. In this detailed history, Aczel (God's Equation) 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. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/01.] James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ., Chicago Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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 2001 Cahners Business Information.
From The Critics
Popular science writer Aczel explores the series of riddles behind the origin and spread of the technology that launched the commercial revolution of the late 13th century. The journey spans from ancient to modern times in China, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Arabia, Africa, and the New World. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
Kirkus Reviews
Talented popular-science writer Aczel (God's Equation) enthusiastically delves into the story of the magnetic compass. There is no mistaking the importance Aczel places on the magnetic compass, which he calls "the most important technological invention since the wheel." For him, that importance lies largely in its role (during the 13th-century revolution in maritime trade) in making the transport of goods efficient and reliable. Like many major inventions, the compass was a synthesis of extant parts—a magnetized needle, a wind rose, a 360-degree field—and the author tracks down its genesis both in Asia and Europe. He suggests that it was in China, sometime prior to a.d. 1040, that the first compass (a magnetized iron fish suspended in water) was constructed. Soon thereafter, also in China, came a wooden turtle that pivoted in a post to the dictates of its lodestone tail. China may even have had a dry magnetic compass as early as the first century, but since the Jesuits burned many of the ancient Chinese texts, we may never know. In Europe, the boxed compass produced in the Italian seacoast town of Amalfi at the turn of the 14th century was the first on record. But Aczel's story ranges way beyond these conjectures, seeking the historical contexts in which the compass took shape. He describes the origins of feng shui, elaborates on Etruscan divination methods, sketches the art of reading the wind, offers short histories of Tuscany and Venice and Marco Polo, and trails a rumor that a Chinese divination compass made its way to the cults of Samothrace. Nimble writer that he is, Aczel keeps these and other topics in constant, fluid motion, like a master juggler. Acompulsively readable investigation, as attracting as the magnetic north.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780151005062
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 8/16/2001
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 200
  • Age range: 5 - 7 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.72 (w) x 8.06 (h) x 0.82 (d)

Meet the Author

Amir D. Aczel, Ph.D. grew up on a ship and was navigating straits in the Mediterranean long before he could drive a car. The author of Fermat's Last Theorem, God's Equation, The Mystery of the Aleph, and Probability 1, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Boston area and teaches at Bentley College.

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Table of Contents

Preface
1 Odyssey 1
2 Signs in the Sea and Sky 9
3 Dante 29
4 The Etruscan Chandelier 39
5 Amalfi 53
6 The Ghost of Flavio Gioia 63
7 Iron Fish, Lodestone Turtle 77
8 Venice 91
9 Marco Polo 111
10 Charting the Mediterranean 123
11 A Nautical Revolution 133
12 Conclusion 153
A Note on the Sources 161
References 165
Acknowledgments 169
Index 171
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Interviews & Essays

An Exclusive Interview with Amir Aczel

Barnes & Noble.com: You've written many popular science books, such as Fermat's Last Theorem and The Mystery of the Aleph. How did you become a science writer?

Amir Aczel: It was purely by chance. I'd been writing textbooks for many years. Then I had an idea about Fermat's Last Theorem - actually the idea was for a novel, but the publisher I called (John Oakes) said: "Nah…why don't you write the real story?" So I did.

B&N.com: What led you to write about the origins of the compass?

AA: I grew up on a ship. My father was a ship's captain. So I'd always been close to the compass, navigation, and the sea. Again, the book was the result of a phone conversation with (another) publisher.

B&N.com: In the book you try to uncover the truth about the mysterious Italian Flavio Gioia, who is credited with inventing the compass. Did you personally hope that he was real?

AA: Yes. I really hoped he would turn out to be a real person, and I was sure he must have had a great personal story. Unfortunately, he'd been hunted down by generations of historians, and they concluded he never existed.

B&N.com: The aesthetics of the early compasses, especially the Chinese compass made in the shape of a turtle, are quite striking. Did you have any favorites?

AA: I like the fish floating on water (also Chinese, c. A.D. 1040) the best.

B&N.com: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AA: What is so interesting about the story of the compass is that the invention was there a thousand years ago -- or more! -- and that it has taken so long for it to become implemented in navigation. Also, it's interesting that the invention really changed the world by allowing commerce to flourish and, thus, it helped create the "world economy" we see today!

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 5, 2010

    AP World History Review: I thought that the Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World is an interesting book. The thing that I liked about it is that how it went deep in the information about how the compass originated and was used.

    My impression of the Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World was that is looks like an interesting book. After I read it, I liked how the author added information about how people used the compass, what was invented before the compass that was similar, how it changed, and other such alluring aspects. The author's purpose was to tell the reader about how the compass was invented from one place to another and how it worked overall. Amir D. Aczel, the author, achieved his purpose. When he was a kid he sailed with his father because he was a captain on a ship. Therefore, he has some insight of what it was like to use the compass from when he was a little kid. Aczel does not write the book until he gets older, but he sailing with his dad is what inspired him to write this book. Aczel achieves his purpose of writing the book because he also does a ton of research in order to go in deep about the information. Thus, I think that Aczel completes his purpose perfectly. I would only recommend this book to people who want more background information on the compass. The Riddle of the Compass does not cover many historical aspects such as empires, social structures, and political and economic philosophies. This book talks more about how people used the compass, modified it, and how it improved over time. It even talks about the magnetic fields of Earth and how the compass used them.

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  • Posted September 1, 2010

    Common technology, amazing history

    The look of the world changed. For one thing, the prevailing view went from a flat world to a globe as circumnavigation, made possible by the compass, proved that mariners would not fall off the edge. For another, the Age of Exploration expanded global knowledge of foreign places and goods. In short, the compass initiated globalization -- of knowledge, commerce, and genetics. But if you want to find out who invented it and where, read the book!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 10, 2009

    AP World History

    The compass' invention took place over a long time and it evolved from China to the rest of the world. However, as a device for marine navigation the Amalfi compass was definitely the first major improvement. The author also explains how after the invention of the compass, the creation of the Wind Rose improved navigation even more. The results were better of trade and travel, the beginning of industrialization and the rise of huge empires.

    If the author's purpose was to educate people about the impact of the compass, then he succeeded. I never knew how much impact the compass had on the world, trade, and travel. The Chinese used it in feng shui. The travels of Marco Polo were affected by the compass and much better sea maps were developed. For a student trying to learn more about this era it would be a waste of time though because it focuses on the compass and doesn't tell us much about politics or economics just how the compass impacted things.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 22, 2002

    A good read

    I have a great interest in the progess of how instrumentation came about for navigation. When I opened this book and read the first chapter," I bought it ". The book explains on how the compass came to be with the trials and errors along the way. After reading it, I still have yet to wonder who may have discovered it first. This book is definately an interesting read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 29, 2002

    A Great Short Story of Invention

    It was the nature of the compass that its invention took place over a long time, from ancient times to the middle ages, and its design evolved from China to the Mediterranean. However, as a reliable device for navigation in the open seas the Amalfi compass was undoubtedly the first major breakthrough. This fascinating story of invention over centuries, in many countries, by mostly unknown inventors and navigators, is told superbly by Arik Aczel in this most readable book. The author also explains briefly how following invention of the compass, the development of the Wind Rose improved navigation even more. The result was world exploration, expansion of trade and travel, the dawn of industrialization and the rise of global empires.

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