Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eureka Man

Book Review : Eureka Man
Author : Alan W. Hirshfeld
My Rating : 2 out of 5 stars

The complete title of the book is "Eureka Man: The Life and Legacy of Archimedes".

I visited Nehru Science Center as I high school student. I still remember my astonishment after seeing the "Archimedes Screw" to get water up from a low point. The simple ingenuity made me wonder, how could he think of that trick ? That was but one small achievement for the genius mind of Archimedes, who is considered along with Newton and Gauss as the greatest mathematicians ever.

But he was much more than a mathematician. Among many other things, he was a physicist,  the greatest engineer of antiquity, an inventor and also a defense strategist for his native country Syracuse. His siege engines against the Roman army made him a legend for centuries. Galileo called him a super-human, Newton used his geometric diagrams to draw geeky graffiti, and countless other geniuses were awe-struck by the achievements of one man's mind.

So, when I saw a book on him, I had to pick it up and read. Unfortunately I was sorely disappointed.

The book has 2 parts. First part, talks quite dryly about the life of Archimedes and some of his achievements. Of course, the Eureka incident is mentioned, along with his work on levers, value of pi etc. His war engines and historical context also get a decent coverage. Little else is covered. Neither parabola, nor the spiral gets any mention. There are some nice pictures and photographs. The explanations here are OK, but what's missing is the passion.

A much bigger second half talks about the discovery of the Palimpsest - the copy from antiquity of Archimedes' original book. As interesting as the story is, it's way too much detail for me. For someone who is interested in the story of historical documents, this may be fun. Just maybe, as although it is informative, it's hardly gripping. I was bored.

It's a short book and it simply fails to respectfully treat the greatest polymath we have known. It's a shame.

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