16 January 2008

The Archimedes Codex

Archimedes was a remarkable mathematician who elucidated theories fundamental to the development of calculus 1,800 years before Newton and Leibniz. His writings contributed to the education of Leonardo da Vinci and Galileo, but few original copies remain, many of them destroyed when Christian soldiers sacked Constantinople in 1204. One palimpsest that did survive is the subject of The Archimedes Codex by Reviel Netz and William Noel. The book is a (overly-)detailed account of the discovery and conservation of the palimpsest and the interpretation of the findings. It will appeal to those with an interest in medieval manuscripts/incunabula or the history of mathematics. It's not an easy read, but it can be skimmed for the essentials in an evening.

For those with limited time, Wikipedia has a reasonable summary of the book and another on the equally fascinating topic of palimpsests in general. The authors and publishers of the book have produced an excellent website replete with photographs.

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