Read The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World by Amir D. Aczel Online


The story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth, yet most will agree it begins around the time of the birth of Christ in ancient China. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Chinese emperor. When this piece of metal was suspended in water, it always pointed north. This unexplainable occurrence led to the stone's use in feng shui, theThe story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth, yet most will agree it begins around the time of the birth of Christ in ancient China. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Chinese emperor. When this piece of metal was suspended in water, it always pointed north. This unexplainable occurrence led to the stone's use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians, more than a thousand years later, who discovered the ultimate destiny of the lodestone and unleashed its formidable powers. In Amalfi sometime in the twelfth century, the compass was born, crowning the Italians as the new rulers of the seas and heralding the onset of the modern world. Retracing the roots of the compass and sharing the fascinating story of navigation through the ages, The Riddle of the Compass is Aczel at his most entertaining and insightful....

Title : The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World
Author :
Rating :
ISBN : 9780156007535
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 208 Pages
Status : Available For Download
Last checked : 21 Minutes ago!

The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention that Changed the World Reviews

  • Motahare Ghaderi
    2019-01-27 21:37

    کتاب باحالی بود.یادمه وقتی میخوندمش هیجان داشتم.به عنوان یه آدمی که قطب نما یکی از ابزارهاییه که قلبا عاشقشه، خوندن کتابی که بیاد یه تاریخچه بده دراین باره و یه سیر هیجان انگیز براش ارائه بده و این وسط کلی چیز هم راجع به دریانوردی(شیرین ترین و دل نشین ترین و خفن ترین و...حرفه ی عالم)قبل و بعد از اختراع قطب نما تعریف کنه، کتاب به یاد موندنی میشه.این کتابو سال 91 یا حداکثر 92 خریدم و خوندم.3500 تومن!!! به کجا داریم می ریم؟؟؟کتاب چاپ 88ه. 3500 تومن؟؟

  • Dwight Penny
    2019-02-02 14:24

    This time it was The Riddle Of The Compass, by Amir D. Aczel.Have you ever read a popular history book where the author takes a simple object or idea, and weaves a thread through the course of civilization, drawing remarkable connections and weaving a web of thought, people, incidents and coincidence that leaves you marveling at human ingenuity and accomplishment, and awed by the vast scope of the author’s erudition and synthesis of vision?Maybe it was something like Longitude, by Dava Sobel, or Cod, by Mark Kurlansky, you’re thinking of. It was definitely not this book.I should have put this one down by page four, when he unnecessarily described his drive to the library where he did his research. “As soon as I left Salerno and drove west along the coast toward Amalfi, the road became extremely curvy. I had to downshift, but the Alfa Romeo 156 was made for such treacherous driving…”This was a big clue that Dr. Aczel had gotten a nice little advance from Harcourt Inc. to take a nice little sabbatical and write a nice little book that might ride the wake behind Ms. Sobel’s success.One problem is that the history of the compass was mostly anonymous. He was going to Amalfi, because they claim to be the birthplace of the compass. But the “inventor” turns out to have been a mostly fictional composite born of the misreading of a typo in a rehash of an old history, written for a Chamber of Commerce centennial event. We then hear a vague account of the development of trade in the Mediterranean, and how it was transformed when the compass arrived obscurely around 1300. Digging further back, he found the Chinese had been using a compass-like device for ritual purposes for centuries before, but the Portuguese missionaries in the 1600’s burned all the records. That was a shame, but at least it kept this book from being too long.He ties these tenuous fibers together with a chapter on Marco Polo, who learned to navigate from Chinese mariners. Unfortunately, the compass was never mentioned in his Travels, presumably because by that time, it was so commonplace, he took it for granted.This is all told in a "Tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em/Tell ‘em/Tell what you told ‘em” style that would be admirable in a high school term paper, but is embarrassing and repetitive in a book for grown ups. Toward the end of the book, he even resorts to the phrase “The list goes on and on,” as he hurries to wrap up his manuscript before he has to get back to Boston to dust off his notes for the Fall semester.You may have noticed, I’m feeling very smug, and a little mean. It's not as though I could write a better book, or ever intend to. I’m just pleased that for once in my wishy-washy life, I didn’t like something, and I can put my finger on why. I take that as proof, however unconvincing to the rest of you, that my critical faculties haven’t completely left me, ...yet.

  • Mark
    2019-02-04 20:46

    This is a perfectly decent short book surrounded by some really annoying framing chapters. There is no particular "riddle" surrounding the compass--it was a valuable navigational aid invented by the Chinese and exploded in western use in the Mediterranean during the 13th century. It was not "invented" in Amalfi, although it may first have been put in a box there, and the identity of the inventor is lost to time despite there being a tradition from several centuries later attributing it to a non-existent townsman.Everything else is entertaining, edifying or both. Staying on course during cloudy winter weather, when sun and stars could be invisible most of the time, meant voyages could be made safely and more accurately year round. There's a good job putting it in context of other navigational tools such as sounding lines, prevailing winds, dead reckoning and navigational charts. The compass added to these but did not replace them all, and longitude remained especially tricky. Perhaps because of the lack of mystery about the compass Aczel makes some chapter-length but interesting detours about Venetian history (in which the compass played a large part) and Marco Polo (who doesn't so much as mention a compass).

  • Charlie
    2019-02-19 17:35

    I was disappointed by the lack of meat about the subject. There was only a couple of chapters of discussion of the evidence of the origin of the compass. The rest was about historical context and about what it helped accomplish. A whole chapter was devoted to Marco Polo even though the author states that Polo did not bring the compass back from China and did not mention it in any of his writings.

  • Ngaio
    2019-02-01 14:31

    This was a slow read for a short book. It was sort of interesting, but it more made me want to read up on the other areas of history it mentioned than made me excited for the compass' history.

  • Elizabeth S
    2019-02-05 20:44

    This was a great read, describing how the compass was invented and how it changed the world.

  • Joey Robert
    2019-01-25 22:32

    Interesting title. Nice cover art. Impressive author background. Below average writing level. All hype and very little substance.

  • Wendy
    2019-02-10 22:34

    He tries to make no information into an interesting book.

  • C
    2019-02-03 14:34

    _The Riddle of the Compass_ by Amir D. Aczel is a fascinating read, and at less than two hundred pages of text, a fast read too. It is about the compass, as is clear from the title. But before magnetic compasses became widely used, trade routes still existed. Some of these trade routes used the position of the sun to help with navigation, some used sightings of the pole star, and some used seasonal winds and soundings of water depth and type of sand on the bottom as a way to track direction and stopping or turning points. Prior to the four, eight or sixteen points of the compass rose on maps, there were maps with a wind rose, often having twelve points but sometimes eight points. The Chinese had knowledge of lodestones long before they are mentioned in European writings. They also knew molten iron was magnetized by letting it cool undisturbed, but they didn’t seem to use this knowledge much for navigation, it was used more for divination. There are also hints that some of the older Mediterranean cultures had divination systems based on geographical directions. The first mention of magnetic compasses used for navigation in Europe appear in 1187 AD/CE in an English monk’s writings. There are a few other references, and a letter was written in a southern Italian military camp in 1269 AD/CE which became the definitive guide for several centuries after that — the _Epistle to Sigerius de Faucoucourt, Soldier, Concerning the Magnet_ by Peter Peregrinus, also known as Peter the Pilgrim of Maricourt. There is an amazing amount of historical, geographical, scientific and archaeological information packed into this book, including a long discussion of whether the supposed inventor of the navigational compass — Flavio Gioia — ever existed. I finished the book the first time a couple weeks ago and after paging through it in the process of writing this review I’ll probably go back and reread it again.There is some interesting commentary in the book about actually steering a ship by compass as the author grew up on a ship. He has some rather pointed comments regarding speculations about ancient seafaring practices when the historians and archaeologists doing the speculating clearly have not been at sea very often. I could keep going on, this book is a wonder of small interesting details, historical information, and commentary on all sorts of things like military strategy, trading relationships in the Mediterranean Sea, and human nature.So I will just sum it up by saying this is a really great book.

  • Lee
    2019-01-28 15:47

    I have used compasses for many years but I had never really thought about how the compass came to be or what was made possible by its invention. This book, Riddle of the Compass by Amir Aczel (2001, Harcourt, Inc.), explores the origins of the instrument and the changes made possible through its use.The Mediterranean Sea was a crossroads of early day travel and commerce, but navigation by boat favored routes along the coastlines where familiar landmarks guided captains. Sailing was also restricted to summer when the skies were unclouded and reckoning by the sun and stars was possible. The compass changed all that. Mariners were no longer dependent on landmarks, or the position of the sun and stars. They could strike out across the heart of the Mediterranean, shortening individual trips and lengthening the seasons in which commerce was possible. It meant a big economic boost to the cities that ringed the sea. Sailors could take routes they had never personally traveled before, because some previous navigator had written the compass bearings and distance estimates in a guidebook.The look of the world changed. For one thing, the prevailing view went from a flat world to a globe as circumnavigation, made possible by the compass, proved that mariners would not fall off the edge. For another, the Age of Exploration expanded global knowledge of foreign places and goods. In short, the compass initiated globalization -- of knowledge, commerce, and genetics. But if you want to find out who invented it and where, read the book!

  • Alex Telander
    2019-01-26 14:22

    From the author of Fermat’s Last Theorem comes The Riddle of the Compass. Aczel teaches at Bentley College and actually grew up a long way away from here, on the Mediterranean where he learned the ways of navigation. Therefore it is quite fitting that this man should be writing a complete history of the compass and its crucial importance in the many events and discoveries of the past. Aczel’s main language is not English, and this is revealed in his writing which while correct and precise is simple and straightforward, not as one would except from a man of such eminence.Aczel takes you on a journey into ancient China, ancient Greece, and ancient Rome, starting with the town of Amalfi in Italy where the compass’ birthplace apparently was. From there the reader is taken everywhere, on the ship with Columbus, across the wild seas with Magellan. The Riddle of the Compass is a book that anyone with an interest in navigation and maritime history should read, as well ass anyone who has a natural interest in answering questions: who invented the first compass? Was is the Chinese, or the Italians? Read The Riddle of the Compass and you will find out.Originally published in July/August 2002.For over 500 book reviews, and over 40 exclusive author interviews (both audio and written), visit BookBanter.

  • Laurent
    2019-02-08 16:51

    This book relates to the history of the compass and how this very important invention (Aczel says it's the most important after the wheel) changed the world (sea navigation and world exploration). The origins of the invention are not clear but Aczel does a good job listing the various mentions of the use of a compass and establishing the controversy about Flavio Giaio.It's a good book for general knowledge and there are quite a few things I learned while reading it. Interesting reading.Ce livre parle de l'histoire de la boussole et comment cette invention tres importante (Aczel dit que c'est la plus importante apres la roue) a change le monde (navigation en mer et exploration du monde). Les origines de l'invention ne sont pas claires mais Aczel reussit a faire la liste des diverses mentions de l'utilisation d'une boussole et a etablir la contreverse a propos de Flavio Giaio.C'est un bon livre pour la connaissance generale et il y a un certain nombre de choses que j'ai apprises pendant cette lecture. Lecture interessante.

  • Ensiform
    2019-02-05 18:35

    The story of the magnetic compass and how it changed the world, from the ancient world to today. Aczel is known as a very readable science writer, and indeed this was an engrossing volume. There are a few bits that made me wonder if he could be trusted as an historian --- for example, he mentions that the Colossus of Rhodes straddled the harbor, which is disputed; and he gives a source for the phrase “seven seas” which cannot possibly be the original --- but on the whole he comes across as erudite and confident.I was most interested in the sections of pre-compass navigational methods, the early Chinese compasses not used for navigation at all, and his discussion of the controversy over Flavio Gioia who is reputed to have “invented” the compass (but who probably never existed). Although brief, the book has a bit of filler (Aczel resorts to the old trick of recapitulating the entire work in his conclusion), but it’s still an intriguing look into not only how the compass was used to make the world smaller, but under what conditions it became so important.

  • CB
    2019-02-23 19:44

    You know, it’s an interesting thing, the compass. These days, I doubt most people would know what to do with one if they saw one. And yet, it has irrevocably changed our world. From opening new trade routes and blowing out the edges of known maps, to influencing our very perception of direction, the profundity of its effect can’t be overstated. If Snake Plisskin had his way, and the world went dark tomorrow, every ship’s captain the world over would lose a GPS system based on the compass. After a moment of panic, though, he or she could return to this essential tool (which they all still carry) and bring the ship home. It’s a fascinating dichotomy, but one left largely unexamined and unremarked upon these days.Read More

  • Kristi Thielen
    2019-02-02 22:24

    Punctuation is critical, as this slim but enjoyable book proves. It details the story of Glavio Gioia, of Amalfi, Italy who may or may not have invented the compass in the 14th century. The ancient written detail of him includes a sentence with a (mis?) placed comma: whether he actually invented the device, or introduced the already-invented device to his countrymen, is something that hangs on whether the comma should or shouldn't be there. The people of Amalfi, naturally, insist that he was the inventor. The author graciously leaves the question open to debate, but gives what information he can about Gioia and also tells the history of navigation by dead reckoning, precursors to the magnetic compass and how this and other compasses work. Fun to read, even if you won't ever be concerned about navigating a ship through open ocean to the Cape of Good Hope.

  • Mary
    2019-01-30 17:21

    Interesting little book about how very important a now common, mundane thing like a compass was in making our world what it is today.In today's vogue atmosphere of dismissing all things biblical as myth, I especially enjoyed Aczel's references to seafaring legends in the Bible, such as Noah and Paul. Also liked how while Aczel did give a nod to China's having been using a compass per se long before the West, it wasn't until true seafaring communities had this world-changing tool at their disposal that it was put to true, useful use and revolutionized the world.Between the covers of this short book, Aczel, son of a ship's captain, manages to briefly cover how the compass was instrumental in making Columbus, Da Gama, Madellan, Drake and Cook familiar names to us all.I recommend it.

  • Kris
    2019-01-25 19:22

    The book is a very basic approach to the history of the compass in the West. It's a reasonably good introduction to the Era of Exploration in Europe in spite of the inclusion of several questionable bits of history ie the Colossus of Rhodes' actual location and whether Marco Polo was real. However at the slightly under three-quarters point, the book turns into the gushing nausea about the exploroers that brought civilization to the rest of the world that is spoon fed to children in school classrooms. My main complaint is that Aczel repeats himself quite frequently and for such a small book it's really unnecessary. I can remember what I read 20 pages prior.

  • Ewatson
    2019-02-16 20:38

    Well written and full of nautical history, The Riddle of the Compass was a fast read for me. I didn't give it a higher rating merely because I am not overly interested in the subject matter. Still, the book is full of obscure nuggets of information, and for someone who has trouble reading a map and has a deep suspicion of the motives of her GPS (sure, she sounds sweet, but what is she REALLY up to? ), it was enlightening for me to learn a little bit about how mariners learned to navigate the world's oceans.

  • Jerry B
    2019-02-17 18:33

    Relatively short trade paperback that traces the invention of the compass back to China, although with considerable discussion of the claims of Amalfi (Italy) to their discovery of the compass and its useful application to navigation at sea. We found this non-fiction work fairly interesting, especially with regard to how the compass impacted the fortunes of various countries sailing the Mediterranean; and how the compass made year-round shipping a reality. Not a great work by any means, but a pleasant enough way to pass an hour and a half or so; moderately educational.

  • John E
    2019-02-16 22:34

    A very simplistic book on the compass. I couldn't find the "riddle" he mentioned in his title. He spent the whold time on how the supposed Italian inventor of the compass didn't really invent it and how the Chinese who did discover the relationship of magnets to directions didn't really use it because they didn't go to sea. So the one who discovered the priciple of the compass didn't use it and it made it's way by some unknown path to Europe where it was used to find directions and thus allowed for safer sea voyages. A very disappointing book.

  • Lisa
    2019-01-31 14:23

    I love the books that take one topic and give you the whole history for that one thing; like Gunpowder or Vermillion. This wasn't the liveliest book, but very good history. Interesting how he points out that China had 2 major "discoveries": the magnetic compass and gunpowder, but did nothing with either (using them for fung shui and fireworks respectively). It took people with drive and ambition to turn them into useful items that changed history.

  • dejah_thoris
    2019-02-05 19:42

    A nice little book that tells the somewhat controversial history of the compass. (The controversy being whether one man brought it to Western civilization or if it just started appearing everywhere at once.) I learned a little bit about Chinese divination with this one and why the compass caught on among some seafarers but not others. Pretty neat!

  • Ken
    2019-02-17 19:27

    Moderately interesting topic. Suffers, however, because the actual circumstances of the invention of the compass in China are obscured by history. Later adoption of the compass in Italy is similarly obscure. Still, the author has an easy writing style, and he does effectively explain in what ways the compass was, and was not, significant.

  • Jacob
    2019-02-17 20:50

    I am not even going to give this book a star yet. It is HORRIBLE! TERRIBLE! I wish I could stop reading and burn the book in my fire place but it is a school assignment so I can't :( I am about to die reading this book because it is so boring. It is just the history of how the compass was invented. I mean, just read the preface. It is horrible! HORRIBLE!

  • AC
    2019-02-10 14:25

    Another excellent history of science/math and the world that brought it about and was changed by it. As is often the case, some of his diversions, while perhaps an attempt to paint a fuller historical picture, often end up contributing little more than making the book longer than it needs to be. Still, Aczel's research and presentation are a genuinely rewarding and should not be missed.

  • Marvin
    2019-02-23 17:51

    It was a very interesting book but was a little disappointing in content. I expected more actual history and was left with a incomplete feeling, somewhat let down by the allusions to history with no real substance. AS a story it is well told but someone looking for real facts regarding the compass should look elsewhere.

  • Andrew
    2019-02-20 20:36

    This was a quick, but good read. Well researched, with references given at the end, this was a fascinating tale of the dissemination of the technology which enabled advancement in navigation. I had a few minor quibbles, such as the reference to Magellan's voyage proving the world to be spherical. But, overall a great read, and I learned many new things.

  • Cynthia
    2019-02-09 17:43

    This book made me appreciate more deeply all those gripping excellent nonfiction books that have been published in recent years, by authors such as Simon Winchester. This book seemed promising but in the end it was like reading a so-so textbook. It had no human drama, just a lot of facts which, if I were truly more interested in compasses and science, I might have enjoyed more.

  • Rae
    2019-02-07 17:47

    The history of the compass and its use across the world. The nautical wind rose compass began with the eight winds of the Mediterranean. Then the twelve winds of classical antiquity were added and ultimately the modern compass wind rose evolved.

  • Abby
    2019-02-15 21:43

    I wavered between 2 and 3 stars for this book. Although the author did a decent job of covering the topic I thought the prose was very dry. I also thought the book had a lot of filler in order to make it longer.