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Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets

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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 a 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 world's 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.


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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 a 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 world's 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.

30 review for Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer and the Century-Long Search to Discover Its Secrets

  1. 5 out of 5

    Robin Rivers

    Jo Marchant reveals her ease with translating scientific speak into real-life adventure that drives readers of all kinds right to the very end of this fantastic book. Although it took me a while to get into it as a result of my own distraction, once there I found myself wrapped up in the same obsession with the Antikythera mechanism as ruled the lives of these men and women for generations. Marchant broke down complex realities and interwove the relationships of the scientists involved at every l Jo Marchant reveals her ease with translating scientific speak into real-life adventure that drives readers of all kinds right to the very end of this fantastic book. Although it took me a while to get into it as a result of my own distraction, once there I found myself wrapped up in the same obsession with the Antikythera mechanism as ruled the lives of these men and women for generations. Marchant broke down complex realities and interwove the relationships of the scientists involved at every level of revelation to help us all fall in love with this ancient mystery that still holds its own undiscovered origin and purpose. This may be one of the best non-fiction books on ancient mysteries I have come across. Ever.

  2. 4 out of 5

    jeremy

    decoding the heavens recounts the discovery of the antikythera mechanism, arguably the most remarkable archaeological find in human history. a mechanical computer dating from the second century bce, it was recovered from an ancient mediterranean shipwreck by greek sponge divers in 1900 (after nearly 2,000 years of submersion). its function, however, would elude academics, researchers, computer scientists, and archaeologists for still another century. whoever turned the handle on the side of i decoding the heavens recounts the discovery of the antikythera mechanism, arguably the most remarkable archaeological find in human history. a mechanical computer dating from the second century bce, it was recovered from an ancient mediterranean shipwreck by greek sponge divers in 1900 (after nearly 2,000 years of submersion). its function, however, would elude academics, researchers, computer scientists, and archaeologists for still another century. whoever turned the handle on the side of its wooden case became master of the cosmos, winding forwards or backwards to see everything about the sky at any chosen moment. pointers on the front showed the changing positions of the sun, moon and planets in the zodiac, the date, as well as the phase of the moon, while spiral dials on the back showed the month and year according to a combined lunar-solar calendar, and the timing of eclipses. inscribed text around the front dial revealed which star constellations were rising and setting at each moment, while the writing on the back gave details of the characteristics and location of the predicted eclipses. the mechanism's owner could zoom in on any nearby day- today, tomorrow, last tuesday- or he could travel far across distant centuries. an intricate, sophisticated device constructed from dozens of gears, its mechanical complexity is baffling, as similar technology was not thought to have originated until some millennium and a half later. it's hard to overestimate the uniqueness of the find. before the antikythera mechanism, not one single gearwheel had ever been found from antiquity, nor indeed any example of an accurate pointer or scale. apart from the antikythera mechanism, they still haven't. despite having unlocked the antikythera's inner workings, scholars disagree on its origins, designer, and ultimate purpose. many theories point to hipparchus, ancient greek astronomer & mathematician, as the device's inventor, yet some evidence points instead to archimedes, and others to posidonius, a stoic philosopher. the most recent research seems to indicate that the device's astronomical and technical features may have been based upon babylonian scientific advances. although research remains ongoing, the antikythera's purpose may never be fully discerned. speculation about its application ranges from its possible use in developing horoscopes to a "philosophical or religious demonstration of the workings of the heavens." some even surmise that this ingenious mechanism may not be the only one of its kind. science journalist jo marchant's engrossing narrative is obviously well-researched. as her book chronicles the technological advances employed in the ever-evolving hunt for answers, we are introduced to an array of frustrated (and betrayed) researchers each racing to be the first to unravel the device's mysteries and collect accolades for their success. for whatever decoding the heavens may lack in style or flourish, it makes up for with intrigue and wonder. that the antikythera mechanism was ever chanced upon and pulled from the sea is itself quite an unlikely feat. that it was ever conceived of and constructed in the first place seems nearly an impossible one. "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." ~derek de solla price (scientist and early antikythera researcher)

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This account of the scientific inquiries into a piece of ancient machinery dated to 60-70 BC reads a bit like a Dan Brown novel -- but the story is non-fiction. Drama builds right up to the end, when the magazine Nature published the results of the Antikythera Research Project in November, 2006. Successive teams of competing researchers have added to knowledge of one of the first known astronomical computers: * Originally recovered from a wreck off Antikythera Island in 1900, Derek J. de Solla Pr This account of the scientific inquiries into a piece of ancient machinery dated to 60-70 BC reads a bit like a Dan Brown novel -- but the story is non-fiction. Drama builds right up to the end, when the magazine Nature published the results of the Antikythera Research Project in November, 2006. Successive teams of competing researchers have added to knowledge of one of the first known astronomical computers: * Originally recovered from a wreck off Antikythera Island in 1900, Derek J. de Solla Price originally speculated in the 1950s that it was used to track the motions of the moon and stars. Price was able to show that gearing matched the Metonic cycle used by Egyptian sky calendars. * Michael Wright would pick up on Price's work and show that the Antikythera mechanism was more complicated, showing the 76-year Callipic cycle, and likely showing the phases of the moon. * Mike Edmunds, Tony Freeth and others would image the device in more detail -- and find other remnant gears -- while engaged in the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project, who would author the Nature article. They expanded on the complexity again, indicating that the zodiac, sun, moon and even eclipses could be predicted using the Antikythera mechanism. Along the way there are stories of the jealousy and competition of scientists trying to unravel the origin and use of this device. Its importance to scientific history cannot be underestimated: it may even indicate that the Greek use of the concept of "zero" occurred earlier than Ptolemy, who's given credit for it in the 2nd Century AD.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Rob Thompson

    Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-old Computer and the Century Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant is an exploration of the history and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism (/ˌæntɪkɪˈθɪərə/ an-ti-ki-theer-ə), an ancient mechanical calculator (also described as the first known mechanical computer) designed to calculate astronomical positions. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until a thousand years later. (view spoiler)[Marchant approaches the myst Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-old Computer and the Century Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant is an exploration of the history and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism (/ˌæntɪkɪˈθɪərə/ an-ti-ki-theer-ə), an ancient mechanical calculator (also described as the first known mechanical computer) designed to calculate astronomical positions. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until a thousand years later. (view spoiler)[Marchant approaches the mystery of the mechanism in a narrative that begins with the discovery of the Antikythera wreck in 1901 and includes a primer on the development of scuba gear in the 19th century. Throughout the book, Marchant weaves ancient history with the lives and travails of the handful of contemporary scientists who bucked conventional wisdom with their belief that the mechanism embodied technological and mathematical expertise thought to be impossible for its time. It is believed to have been built about 150–100 BC and yet the delicate bronze clockwork it embodies would not be known to Europe until the Middle Ages. (hide spoiler)] A work of caution. The story involves complicated descriptions of astronomical theory. Large amounts of detail on mechanical parts. And digressions on analytical instruments. These are all impossible to understand without drawings. I listened to the audio book. As such huge amounts of technical detail were lost. It plods along at a glacial pace. Personally, I got more out watching a documentary on the mechanism.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Absolutely fascinating story: an ancient Greek geared mechanism found in a shipwreck, and the struggle by various researchers to figure out what it was, working from a corroded and fragmented artifact. The writing is accessible and lively; at times a little too journalist-y for my tastes, but very readable. I now really want to go see the tower of the winds in Athens (as well as the Antikythera mechanism itself.)

  6. 4 out of 5

    Steve Wiggins

    The Antikythera device is one of the true marvels of human technology. Written with the flare of a detective story and the credibility of a science writer, Marchant's book is a fantastic introduction to a machine that has to be read about to be believed. Please see my blog for further remarks: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World. The Antikythera device is one of the true marvels of human technology. Written with the flare of a detective story and the credibility of a science writer, Marchant's book is a fantastic introduction to a machine that has to be read about to be believed. Please see my blog for further remarks: Sects and Violence in the Ancient World.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Victor Sonkin

    1. Around 1900, a major find is found near Antikythera during a sponge search; for a long time, it is being searched by Greeks (who are recently, and not completely, independent and proud about it). For the first time in such cases, underwater archaeology produces results (a previous attempt to lift the traces of the Salamis battle was unsuccessful). However, the technology is still in its infancy: bends are ubiquitous and generally disregarded; underwater workers are never acknowledged. The 'me 1. Around 1900, a major find is found near Antikythera during a sponge search; for a long time, it is being searched by Greeks (who are recently, and not completely, independent and proud about it). For the first time in such cases, underwater archaeology produces results (a previous attempt to lift the traces of the Salamis battle was unsuccessful). However, the technology is still in its infancy: bends are ubiquitous and generally disregarded; underwater workers are never acknowledged. The 'mechanism' finds itself among other garbage from the site in a museum in Athens. 2. Soon, the remains of the device (damaged by neglect and air — a review of what happens to copper, bronze, iron and steel underwater and in other circumstances is included) were discovered, and, though it was virtually impossible to read (and there was a whole chunk of text without spaces), it was obvious that it was a very complex mechanism, something that did not seem probable for antiquity. Examples of gears were spotted in books (including a chariot 'taxometer', for example, and a number of inventions, such as the 'eternal screw', of Archimedes and his friends and followers), but there was nothing as complex as this. Researchers who contributed to the study were rear admiral John Theophanidis, the German expert Albert Rehm (who suffered during WWII and after, being a maverick opposed both to the Nazis and to the victors in the war), Rados, Rediadis etc. (an astrolabe, he claimed, even though it did not seem to be, being too complex and carried around in a box, like a typical onboard sea instrument). However, after the occupation and WWII the device sank into oblivion. 3. Decades pass; the chapter is spent in trying to define the origin of the wreck. Various methods are brought into play, including radiocarbon dating (which is faulty because the center of the trees is soon virtually dead even while the tree grows), underwater research (two attemps are made by Cousteau and his team at various times) and so on; the location could be Rhodos; Alexandria; Pergam — but probaby not the mainland or Athens. A stack of coins is found during the second Cousteau's attempt, and the wreck is tentatively dated to the 1st C BC. 4. Rewriting History. 4. A Heroic Reconstruction. 6. The Moon in a Box. 7. Mechanic's Workshop. 8. The New Boys. 9. A Stunning Idea. 10. Old Man of Syracuse. All in all, research continues, and a new mysterious artefact is presented in another museum. People from London's Science Museum team up, an Austrialian makes an appearance, old ideas are discarded, the device is measured using cutting-edge new technologies (by a company who hopes to improve its technology to scan airplane propellers). After all the efforts, the decision is that it seems to be a specialized (but not used by specialists, because there are lots of instructions for lay people) device which defines the dates of eclipses and the like — a 19-year cycle is involved, after which the device should be manually reset. There are questions and mysteries that remain, but all in all, this is what it seems to be — and it certainly proves that the ancient world was not without its hi-end technology. A very passionate and interesting book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Giorgio

    It´s a well written book. Now, I know A LOT about the history and the capabilities of the AntiKythera "computer"... BUT... Despite the author tries, there is no explanation how a "Ferrari Murcealago" appeared in a Ford T ´25 enviroment. Lost tech, a sudden ultra genius, who knows? I hoped the book would describe the level of tech necessary to produce the mechanism in those times... There is NO predecesor, the quoted ONES by the author are far away from the final product... it is something like "hey, t It´s a well written book. Now, I know A LOT about the history and the capabilities of the AntiKythera "computer"... BUT... Despite the author tries, there is no explanation how a "Ferrari Murcealago" appeared in a Ford T ´25 enviroment. Lost tech, a sudden ultra genius, who knows? I hoped the book would describe the level of tech necessary to produce the mechanism in those times... There is NO predecesor, the quoted ONES by the author are far away from the final product... it is something like "hey, they made a sun dial, they made a water clock... and they made... a COMPUTER!" Nothing in-between!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bernice Rocque

    A slow reveal spanning more than a century and a fascinating "cast" of obsessed characters propel this engrossing (nonfiction) historical mystery. In 1901, a perplexing artifact was discovered in an ancient shipwreck in the eastern Mediterranean. Jo Marchant, a science writer with a sense of humor, delivers each new story layer in context. We can appreciate how it took an array of persistent scientists, mechanical tinkerers, and historians, paired with advances in diving and computer technology A slow reveal spanning more than a century and a fascinating "cast" of obsessed characters propel this engrossing (nonfiction) historical mystery. In 1901, a perplexing artifact was discovered in an ancient shipwreck in the eastern Mediterranean. Jo Marchant, a science writer with a sense of humor, delivers each new story layer in context. We can appreciate how it took an array of persistent scientists, mechanical tinkerers, and historians, paired with advances in diving and computer technology to release the secrets of the antikytera device.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bianca

    Good I'm not very technical so some parts I skimmed over but even at that it was a good read. The illustrations in the Kindle addition appear haphazardly in the middle all of a sudden while your reading which is weird. Wish there was a better way to do this with the illustrations. Some things I even googled for a visual point of reference because I wasn't aware I'd eventually stumble upon the illustrations. All in all, pretty decent read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Kieran Milner

    Reads Like a Detective Story. I was inspired to purchase this book after seeing a video of the author giving a lecture on the Antikythera device. I was particularly impressed by the fact that she didn't use any notes. It is a thoroughly enjoyable read on a subject that could befall an boring. I have no hesitation in giving it five stars.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Terrible dramatising writing. Maybe the author would rather write fiction. Dwelling on irrelevant minutiae, personal stories and general incompetence of the Greek government (who'd have thunk it). There are only a few pages left for the poor Antikythera which this book was meant to popularise.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Johanna

    I didn't want this book to end. it was a perfect summary of a complex machine with an even more mysterious history.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Literary_Octopus

    Very interesting subject matter, but at times it felt like the writer was stretching out into a book, a Wikipedia article's amount of information.

  15. 4 out of 5

    a hooded figure from your friendly neighbourhood dog park

    [Audiobook]

  16. 5 out of 5

    Vincent Anton

    This book explained the mystery of the Antikythera mechanism, the finding and the process of explaining such complex item in a clear and easy reveling way. Really great to read

  17. 4 out of 5

    Glenn

    Another narrative showing a key missing part to the puzzle we call " history".

  18. 5 out of 5

    Danielle Julien

    Epic saga of the quest for knowledge over the centuries. Not a simple book, but easy to read, well done.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Carlos Oliver

    Very nice blend of math, history, and personal drama.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Annie Kate

    Around 1900, Greek sponge divers found a system of gears, very intricate and ancient. How old? Well, it seems it was almost 2000 years old.... And that’s a problem, because ‘everyone knew’ that the ancient Greeks were not interested in practical things like technology, and they were ‘not advanced enough’ to have such complex systems. It turns out that modern man, in his unending hubris, has once again underestimated those who lived in the past, making the whole story of the Antikythera mechanism Around 1900, Greek sponge divers found a system of gears, very intricate and ancient. How old? Well, it seems it was almost 2000 years old.... And that’s a problem, because ‘everyone knew’ that the ancient Greeks were not interested in practical things like technology, and they were ‘not advanced enough’ to have such complex systems. It turns out that modern man, in his unending hubris, has once again underestimated those who lived in the past, making the whole story of the Antikythera mechanism fascinating on many levels. For over a hundred years, through wars and upheavals, one person after another has fallen under the spell of the Antikythera mechanism, as it came to be called. People wondered what it was for, how it worked, where it came from, why it was on the ship, and who made it. The lucky ones got to study the fragile artifact, count its gears, and image it in various ways. Then they went off with their images and gear ratios to try to decipher the mechanism’s use, building models and writing papers. Marchant discusses the Antikthera mechanism’s modern story as a process, step by step, and this has both positive and negative aspects. The negative ones, of course, are that we keep on going down rabbit trails along with the researchers. The positive aspects are that we learn about so much more than just the mechanism, as well as learning about the mechanism itself in much greater detail than we otherwise would have. From a careful explanation of the Antikythera mechanism, to the analysis of water clocks, to a discussion of the influence of Archmedes’ teacher at the Alexandria museum, to the first detailed outline of eclipses I have ever come across, Decoding the Heavens combines history, technology, and scientific sleuthing in a well-written narrative. I enjoyed this book hugely and learned an enormous amount. It is, at times, technical, but Marchant goes out of her way to explain the many unusual terms and ideas. And, throughout the book, there is the wonder that the ancient Greeks had the knowledge and skill to make such ‘advanced’ equipment. Of course, the world is full of other evidence of the advanced abilities of ancient man and crazy explanations abound. If, however, one rejects the concepts of alien beings helping to build the pyramids, for example, one is left with the possibility that, perhaps, ancient man was very intelligent and knew about technologies that have not yet been rediscovered. This would be in line with a literal understanding of the Bible. However, since neither the alien explanation nor the biblical one fits in with the general paradigm of our age, the whole issue of anomalous technological artifacts and abilities is often ignored by scholars. Be that as it may, Marchant sums up her perspective in this profound ending to her book: Finding out who made the Antikythera mechanism and why also turns upside down any notion we might have had about ancient technology being ‘primitive’ and our own being so ‘advanced’. After all, where we see practical machinery that can measure time accurately and do work, the Greeks saw a way to gain knowledge, demonstrate the beauty of the heavens and get closer to the gods. Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant is the kind of book that would meet the math and science reading requirement in our homeschool high school. It will also appeal to anyone interested in the history of science, ancient history, time-keeping, and astronomy, and will broaden every reader’s horizons. Highly recommended. Note: My review makes the book sound philosophical, and it is at times, but it is also quite technical and a lot of fun.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Linda Robinson

    Three encrusted bronze fragments collected from a wreck along the coast of Antikythera in 1900 by Greek sponge divers in a tiny boat, languished in a cardboard box in the National Archeological Museum in Athens for decades. The Antikythera mechanism may be the first analog computer, built about 80 BC. This predates clockwork mechanisms in wide public use by millennium, and challenges the long-held belief that such science originated in Europe. Its purity of design and build imply that it is not Three encrusted bronze fragments collected from a wreck along the coast of Antikythera in 1900 by Greek sponge divers in a tiny boat, languished in a cardboard box in the National Archeological Museum in Athens for decades. The Antikythera mechanism may be the first analog computer, built about 80 BC. This predates clockwork mechanisms in wide public use by millennium, and challenges the long-held belief that such science originated in Europe. Its purity of design and build imply that it is not the only one of its kind made, just the only one found. The little mechanism, with gears, pointers, flat discs, slots and pins, and a hand crank, plots the course of the Sun, Moon, known planets, including the observed elliptical orbits and wobbles in their travels. And also predicts eclipses - out to 26,000 years. It combines the Egyptian calendar, the 19 year Metonic cycle and the Saros cycle, a period of 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours; the time between a particular eclipse. Another dial is thought to display the 76 year Callippic cycle, and may have been to track dates of the ancient Olympic games. Scientists, museum curators and interested others have spent entire careers - some all of their academic life - pursuing the secrets of the Antikythera mechanism. Marchant is a science writer. She was assigned the story by Nature magazine in 2006, and the mechanism clearly fascinated her. The book reads more like a blog post than a scientific paper: she speculates wildly about personalities and thought processes among the researchers. Not good scientific reporting, but she sure made an absorbing book! The commentary and intrigue about the Antikythera mechanism, and this book continues at the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project website, which makes for more fascinating reading. I love the language of researchers, barely struggling to be polite, but writing in such a way that we know the writer means "stupid twit - he's wrong; as wrong as he can be!" Like any discovery, there is a race to publish, to publish first, and to busily refute other work while the race is on. Makes for fascinating reading. The mechanism will be studied, argued about, and hopefully one day there will be the technology (and the money) to examine the shipwreck for other pieces that can reveal more puzzle answers. A fascinating aside: there were enormous pieces of rock covering some of the artifacts collected, and the salvage crew, thinking these had fallen from the cliffs on the mainland, used ropes and pulleys to pick them up, and drop them over a deep underwater cliff. Cousteau's team, diving the wreck in 1976, did not have the equipment to examine the crevasse. What other wonders might these be, sleeping in a dark ocean trench?

  22. 4 out of 5

    Christian

    Ms. Marchant did a superior job in telling the story of the Antikythera mechanism. Leave it to a science journalist to amply fill in all the background you need and expose the relevant alternative theories to any decision or guess made in this archaeological forensic work. The Antikythera mechanism was a box of machinery discovered in a shipwreck near Greece. Intellectuals and scientists have been consistently lured to its siren call for one reason: the level of precision clockwork technology in Ms. Marchant did a superior job in telling the story of the Antikythera mechanism. Leave it to a science journalist to amply fill in all the background you need and expose the relevant alternative theories to any decision or guess made in this archaeological forensic work. The Antikythera mechanism was a box of machinery discovered in a shipwreck near Greece. Intellectuals and scientists have been consistently lured to its siren call for one reason: the level of precision clockwork technology in this machine appeared to be nearly two millennia ahead of its time. There was no precedent for such an advanced machine to have been created in first century B.C., somehow escaping any written contemporary documentation. Marchant undertakes to explain the significance of this marvel to the completely uninitiated: when she introduces the sponge divers who first discovered it, she explains the hazards of diving without proper equipment, to impress the reader with sufficient awe at what they were able to uncover. In explaining the damage this equipment suffered underwater, she touches upon basic chemical reaction, what happens when copper and bronze sit in salt water for over a dozen centuries, and how this reaction further deteriorated the components as it sat in storage. This builds up a surprising level of dramatic tension, as the quest to uncover this ancient machine's secrets truly is a race against time. (When it got into the deep math, I was unable to follow this information but could skip past a paragraph or two without losing much. That was a relief.) She introduces all the players: the archaeologists, the museum curators, the amateur but impassioned researchers, their assistants and families. We're sympathetic to the vainglorious bastards and we root for the unsung heroes: Marchant does her best to represent each fairly, as well as their relation to each other. She addresses each reasonable theory in good faith, then debunks it as advanced technology and clearer thinkers with better information unravel previously impenetrable clues. At no point does she assert, "And now we definitely know this about it." She is careful to represent each concept as a reasonable suggestion and substantiate it as well as possible. This is so much more satisfying, more confidence-inducing, than someone claiming the mystery of the mechanism's origins are conclusively resolved. I daresay this book is rereadable. I could easily see myself returning to it in half a year, to relive the tension and discovery, as well as to study a very competent exposition and storytelling method.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Nikki

    3.5 stars Overall Decoding the Heavens is a very well-written and interesting book that often read as smoothly as a fictional tale. The history of the Antikythera Mechanism and the people who became obsessed with it was very interesting. I envy the enthusiasm these individuals showed towards the mechanism but overall I would say it rather negatively impacted their lives. Everything in moderation and such. I also was intrigued by the incorporation of information on diving and the history of archae 3.5 stars Overall Decoding the Heavens is a very well-written and interesting book that often read as smoothly as a fictional tale. The history of the Antikythera Mechanism and the people who became obsessed with it was very interesting. I envy the enthusiasm these individuals showed towards the mechanism but overall I would say it rather negatively impacted their lives. Everything in moderation and such. I also was intrigued by the incorporation of information on diving and the history of archaeological findings at sea. The importance of translations of knowledge through the ages and the different stages of technology in the world since ancient times was quite frustrating to read. It is a bit disturbing to realize how much more advanced society could be with such a simple change in history (the knowledge to create a mechanism like this surviving downfalls of societies). Although, dare I say we could long be gone considering the tragic elements of advancement (climate change, threat of nuclear winter etc). I really enjoyed the history of different inventors and great minds from ancient times to more modern times, such as Archimedes, Hero, Posidonius, Hipparchus, and Aristarchus (Copernicus used his theory from the 3rd century BCE to further prove heliocentrism, later Galileo). (Speaking of which, it wasn't until 1992 that the Catholic Church even admitted Galileo was right. I don't see how anyone can be okay with that, it is completely absurd.) One of my only complaints about the book is that some of the mechanical elements described were a bit confusing and were difficult to get a full grasp on, especially as I've always been very visual with details such as those found in the Antikythera Mechanism. But overall a very intriguing book that makes me wonder yet again what else there is yet to be discovered, if ever discovered (the saddest possibility).

  24. 4 out of 5

    Andres

    Top notch book that chronicles the discovery and decipherment of a device that proves to the modern world that assumptions about the low level of technical achievement in the ancient world are very wrong. I first read about the Antikythera mechanism in an article written by Tony Freeth (who is profiled in the book). [I read the article in this anthology, but a PDF version, with all the illustrations, can easily be found online.] After reading the article I looked online for everything I could abou Top notch book that chronicles the discovery and decipherment of a device that proves to the modern world that assumptions about the low level of technical achievement in the ancient world are very wrong. I first read about the Antikythera mechanism in an article written by Tony Freeth (who is profiled in the book). [I read the article in this anthology, but a PDF version, with all the illustrations, can easily be found online.] After reading the article I looked online for everything I could about this machine, and eventually I read this fascinating book. The book is great at telling the machine's story, piecing together the slow and steady scholarship the mechanism has accumulated in its 100+ years since it was found in a shipwreck. I am amazed by the scientific knowledge that the mechanism embodies: not only of the information that it was built to convey, but the very construction of the machine itself, constructed using a complicated array of gears---a working knowledge that was lost for 1000 years at least. A definite must read.

  25. 5 out of 5

    David

    This is a combination Roman-era history work, archaeological study, mathematical analysis, and detective novel, all rolled into one -- but written more engagingly than any book of history, archaeology, math or forensic analysis. Marchant studies what is now known as the "Antikythera mechanism", a remarkable archaeological find dating back to 70-60BC. After more than a century of on-again, off-again study, scholars finally (in 2005) concluded that it is an extremely sophisticated astronomical comp This is a combination Roman-era history work, archaeological study, mathematical analysis, and detective novel, all rolled into one -- but written more engagingly than any book of history, archaeology, math or forensic analysis. Marchant studies what is now known as the "Antikythera mechanism", a remarkable archaeological find dating back to 70-60BC. After more than a century of on-again, off-again study, scholars finally (in 2005) concluded that it is an extremely sophisticated astronomical computer. It completely upends centuries of research that has assumed that the Greeks, apart from a handful of scholars such as Euclid, Archimedes and Aristarchus, were relatively backward scientifically. Marchant has done her homework well, and has written her topic in a very readable yet uncompromising style. One warning, though: make sure you have several hours blanked out -- you won't be able to put it down.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Peter Hiller

    Definately an interesting book in what it contains rather than the book itself. The mechanism gives an insight into the possibilities that might have existed, and also totally changed the way that I saw the ancient world. I, like most people used to tend to think of the ancient world as this place where the most advanced science and tech was a rather nice plumbing and heating system that we caught up to technologically in the 14th century. This book reminds us all that in reality, the ancients re Definately an interesting book in what it contains rather than the book itself. The mechanism gives an insight into the possibilities that might have existed, and also totally changed the way that I saw the ancient world. I, like most people used to tend to think of the ancient world as this place where the most advanced science and tech was a rather nice plumbing and heating system that we caught up to technologically in the 14th century. This book reminds us all that in reality, the ancients really did go alot furthur up the technological tree than we give them credit for. The writing is acceptable, if a little dry at times. But thats totally acceptable, given at times this was a topic that literally 3 people on earth really were really paying attention to. The book also gives us a little pause to remember that you can go quite far with technology, and still fall so far back that it takes 2 millenia to catch up. Hopefully, we won't let the mistake happen again.

  27. 4 out of 5

    David

    Excellent story-telling about a one-of-a-kind astronomical "computer" from ancient Greece; and the obsessed scholars who spent years trying to decipher how it was built and how it worked. The author points out the sketchy nature of archaeological remains, especially ones made of metal (which would have been recycled numerous times), to show that devices like this may have been "common" but didn't survive to our own time. Besides the amazing technical achievement of the device's construction in 1st Excellent story-telling about a one-of-a-kind astronomical "computer" from ancient Greece; and the obsessed scholars who spent years trying to decipher how it was built and how it worked. The author points out the sketchy nature of archaeological remains, especially ones made of metal (which would have been recycled numerous times), to show that devices like this may have been "common" but didn't survive to our own time. Besides the amazing technical achievement of the device's construction in 1st cent. B.C., "it became a key piece of evidence in the history of astronomy, encoding the very latest in astronomical knowledge" (p.254). One of the first to attempt to decipher the device was science historian, Derek De Solla Price, who said: "Knowledge works rather like a large jigsaw puzzle. You wait until somebody puts down a piece and try to find a piece of your own to place on that living edge."

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ed

    I've seen this device discussed in numerous sources over the years, usually in those out-there aliens built the pyramids books & tv shows (of which, I admit, I am a voracious reader/watcher). This book lives up to its promise of providing a seemingly solid solution to this fragmentary technological marvel. The first part of the book, describing how the device was unwittingly recovered from an ancient shipwreck, by sponge divers using primitive scuba equipment, and also raising a trove of marbles I've seen this device discussed in numerous sources over the years, usually in those out-there aliens built the pyramids books & tv shows (of which, I admit, I am a voracious reader/watcher). This book lives up to its promise of providing a seemingly solid solution to this fragmentary technological marvel. The first part of the book, describing how the device was unwittingly recovered from an ancient shipwreck, by sponge divers using primitive scuba equipment, and also raising a trove of marbles and bronzes, is incredibly fascinating and heart-stopping in its own right. The tales of scientists pursuing their own ideas and agendas is also fascinating. I still don't understand the mechanics and wherefores of the device (there aren't many pictures), but perhaps one day I'll see a working model.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    This nonfiction work reads like a mystery story. In the 1930's sponge divers discover a 2000 year old wreck. They recover ancient bronzes and artifacts from this period. However one of the artifacts stands out over all the others. In a wooden box, they find gears covered in deposits from their years under the ocean. Early investigations make clear that what they have found is something that experts did not think the ancient Greeks were capable of making. The book describes how the work of severa This nonfiction work reads like a mystery story. In the 1930's sponge divers discover a 2000 year old wreck. They recover ancient bronzes and artifacts from this period. However one of the artifacts stands out over all the others. In a wooden box, they find gears covered in deposits from their years under the ocean. Early investigations make clear that what they have found is something that experts did not think the ancient Greeks were capable of making. The book describes how the work of several very dedicated reasearchers worked for years to find out what the box was meant to do. In addition, how man's advances in technology finally help to reveal what the true purpose of the instrument in the box. It only took about 100 years to figure it out and it changed scientists' views of what the ancient Greeks were capable of making. A very interesting read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Liz

    I was quite pleasantly surprised with this book. I was honestly expecting something drab, dull, dry, and other d-describing words. What I found was something that was particularly fun to read, that made it into a story, full of interesting and fun characters. I can't help but feel that perhaps Marchant was blatantly on the side of Wright, while demonising the others who tried to investigate the device. That was jut a feeling I got as I was reading it. Also, I found the last chapter, surprisingly, I was quite pleasantly surprised with this book. I was honestly expecting something drab, dull, dry, and other d-describing words. What I found was something that was particularly fun to read, that made it into a story, full of interesting and fun characters. I can't help but feel that perhaps Marchant was blatantly on the side of Wright, while demonising the others who tried to investigate the device. That was jut a feeling I got as I was reading it. Also, I found the last chapter, surprisingly, to be dull. Maybe I just couldn't help but feel that after that other chapters had been so fun to read. It wasn't horrible, not by any means, but it wasn't the most fun part of the book. Overall, a good read.

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