Don’t worry about the math – just let the story told by authors Reviel Netz and William Noel take you. ‘The Archimedes Codex’ is an insider tale about the effort to save the earliest found work by the ancient world’s greatest poet-mathematician. Better-known scientific greats, such as Galileo, Descartes and Newton, owe much to Archimedes, who developed the complex theories they built on by sketching figures in sand.
owes a special debt to the scientist from who pioneered probability. The codex reveals that he probably is the first author to write on combinatorics, the area of math that tackles the number of possible solutions to a given problem. Blackjack or poker, anyone?
The narrative twines the story of Archimedes with the modern struggle to decipher a medieval manuscript that contained copies of his previously unknown work. Sold at public auction in 1998 for $2 million, the charred block of parchments was purchased by a man named in the book as Mr. B.
On the surface, the codex is a prayer book made from recycled parchment. But underneath lay unknown works by Archimedes, waiting to be saved by patient conservationists who used the latest in imaging technology to decipher the original text.
The challenge was staggering. Not only had the codex been damaged by fire, it was in a serious state of decay.
“The body of Archimedes may have died by the sword at the hands of a Roman soldier in the third century B.C., but the genius of Archimedes was eaten by mold over two thousand years later,” the authors wrote.
I picked up this book because I love ancient history, the details about Archimedes crafting word problems in verse were worth the price of purchase to me. But the book’s dimensions really extend beyond that, into the very foundations of modern technology. It’s about a footnote in history, but it also changes history by showing us how key principles of math were developed much earlier than anyone thought, only to be lost in the chaos of war and changing times. If makes you wonder: “What if?”