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Summary

The secrets of science meet the drama of the high seas. Amir D. Aczel, the distinguished science writer, turns detective as he uncovers the fascinating story of the invention of the compass. It's a fabulous tale of Chinese lodestones directing the building of palaces and ancient mariners following the flights of birds to reach their destinations.

The arrival of the compass in Europe and an understanding of its potential revolutionized trade in the Mediterranean and ushered in the great Age of Exploration. Tracking down the roots of the compass and telling the story of navigation through the ages, Aczel instructs and charms as never before.

Amir Aczel is known for his ability to write delightful books about hard topics in math and science. And this is the book he was born to write. Raised on ocean liners by his ship's-captain father, the young Aczel stood at the helm and steered ships though the Mediterranean. His experience adds depth and resonance to the telling of this terrific story.
©2001 by Amir Aczel
(P)2001 Random House, Inc.

Critic reviews

Nimble writer that he is, Aczel keeps these and other topics in constant, fluid motion, like a master juggler. A compulsively readable investigation, as attracting as the magnetic north. - ( Kirkus Reviews)

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  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Peter
  • Beulah, United Kingdom
  • 28-10-08

As poor as his book 'Entanglement'

The author does not seem to be able to gather enough information about compasses to fill this book. He has therefore found it necessary to pad out this poorly written work with early maratime history which has little or nothing to do with the implement in question.

In it's defence, I do know more about the history of compasses than I did before I read it, but I cannot see what the riddle is. I think the author is referring to the fact that noone knows who originally discovered the 'compass' as we know it, but as far as I can see it is an object that, like the wheel, has evolved over many, many years from basic origins to the sophisticated tool we use today, with no single inventor.

There is no riddle to this book.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Andy
  • 15-02-03

so much folklore

This book was a facinating account of how the compass "may have" been invented. The author clearly did a lot of research into, if not determining the absolute truth, perhaps a plausible explanation of the various developments that, building upon one another, resulted in the magnetic compass.

20 of 23 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Rickapolis
  • 06-08-12

Don't pass this up

Any additional comments?

I found this to be a very enjoyable listen. A lot of the specific details of the invention of the compass can never be known, so Aczel tells what is known, then goes off on different entertaining tangents of the times and places that are relevant to the story. At the end what you really know is that too much is unknowable. But it is still worth the trip. Henry Leyva does a very nice job reading, never sounding overbearing. Give this one a try. Rick.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars
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  • bookouri
  • 04-06-15

A brief overview of the topic

Any additional comments?

If you are looking for an in-depth treatment of the topic, I don not think you will find it in this book. The book does not have the feel of a scholarly, historical work, but seems to be more a brief overview of the compass/seafaring, due to the exposure of the author as a child, to his father's profession as a ship's captain. The author sails past technical details about the compass and its history without real explanation. The author talks more about people and places that might have been important stepping stones in the development of the technology. Most annoyingly, his references can't be assumed to be "historically" accurate since he makes references to mythological biblical characters, possibly mythological persons, and historical people and places with no distinction. If you want a quick read and are just mildly interested in the topic, this is a decent little book. The book is not a bad place to "start." But don't expect to know a lot more about the "compass" when you finish than you did before you started.

0 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Cher R. Eaves
  • 09-12-07

book report material

You will only finish this book if your kid has to write a book report. I rate it two stars because the narrator has the enthusiasm to make the Bronx Yellow Pages intriguing and because I respect the author's other works. This book will win you several rounds of Trivial Pursuit. It probably started out as an exceptional article in the New Yorker, and there it should have remained. If you so yearn for nautical knowledge, check it out at a library. If you spend money on it or use a credit, you will be disappointed. I was.

1 of 4 people found this review helpful