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The story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth, yet most will agree it begins around the time of the birth of Christ in ancient China. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Chinese emperor. When this piece of metal was suspended in water, it always pointed north. This unexplainable occurrence led to the stone's use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians, more than a thousand years later, who discovered the ultimate destiny ...
The story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth, yet most will agree it begins around the time of the birth of Christ in ancient China. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Chinese emperor. When this piece of metal was suspended in water, it always pointed north. This unexplainable occurrence led to the stone's use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians, more than a thousand years later, who discovered the ultimate destiny of the lodestone and unleashed its formidable powers. In Amalfi sometime in the twelfth century, the compass was born, crowning the Italians as the new rulers of the seas and heralding the onset of the modern world. Retracing the roots of the compass and sharing the fascinating story of navigation through the ages, The Riddle of the Compass is Aczel at his most entertaining and insightful.
"An uncommonly good book about an invention that—there's just no getting around it—changed the world."—Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post
"A compulsively readable investigation, as attracting as the magnetic north."—Kirkus Reviews
|2||Signs in the Sea and Sky||9|
|4||The Etruscan Chandelier||39|
|6||The Ghost of Flavio Gioia||63|
|7||Iron Fish, Lodestone Turtle||77|
|10||Charting the Mediterranean||123|
|11||A Nautical Revolution||133|
|A Note on the Sources||161|
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!
Posted December 5, 2010
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 1, 2010
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!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 10, 2009
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.
Posted October 22, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 29, 2002
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.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.