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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-Old Computer--and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets [Paperback] » User review

A read almost as fast as the storyline.

  • Jul 9, 2010

Not only was this an excellent historical piece, it was a very exciting work of mystery and suspense to see who could cross the finish line first to discover the real function of a nearly two thousand year old computer called the Antikythera device.  This device was found by divers off the coast of Antikythera around the time of the turn of the 20th century.  Although it was corroded by sea water, x-rays showed it had a complex system of gears within its walls.  I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ancient civilizations and the technology used by the ancients.  Amid all the hoopla of extraterrestrial involvement in ancient times, this book places our ancestors in a light of intelligence rather than subservience to alien influence. This story goes behind the academic  facade of archaeological exploration.  It bemuses one man's vainglory and profit at the behest of another man's life dream.  Decoding the Heavens is as dry a piece as the Mediterranean is wet.  It is an adventure that spans the distance of a quaint museum to a prestigious university in Australia.  It is as near an Indiana Jones story line as the real world allows.  At times the technical description of the antikythera mechanism was a bit confusing, but I do not really see that that was really the main focus of the author.  

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Robbie ()
Ranked #1844
I'm an avid reader. I prefer to read classical literature, science non-fiction, and philosophical literature.
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Starred Review. Marchant, editor of New Science, relates the century-long struggle of competing amateurs and scientists to understand the secrets of a 2000-year-old clock-like mechanism found in 1901 by Greek divers off the coast of Antikythera, a small island near Tunisia. With new research and interviews, Marchant goes behind the scenes of the National Museum in Athens, which zealously guarded the treasure while overlooking its importance; examines the significant contributions of a London Science Museum assistant curator who spent more than 30 years building models of the device; and the 2006 discoveries made by a group of modern researchers using state-of-the-art X-ray. Beneath its ancient, calcified surfaces they found "delicate cogwheels of all sizes" with perfectly formed triangular teeth, astronomical inscriptions "crammed onto every surviving surface," and a 223-tooth manually-operated turntable that guides the device. Variously described as a calendar computer, a planetarium and an eclipse predictor,Marchant gives clear explanations of the questions and topics involved, including Greek astronomy and clockwork mechanisms. For all they've learned, however, the Antikythera mechanism still retains secrets that may reveal unknown connections between modern and ancient technology; this globe-trotting, era-spanning mystery should absorb armchair scientists of all kinds.
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