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The Ancient Engineers

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  344 ratings  ·  27 reviews
"Mr. de Camp has the trick of being able to show technology engaging in feats as full of derring-do as those of Hannibal's army. History as it should be told."--Isaac Asimov, The New York Times Book Review

The Pyramids of Giza, the Parthenon of Greece, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum of Rome. Today, we stand in awe before these wonders of the ancient world. They h
Paperback, 480 pages
Published January 3rd 1995 by Ballantine Books (first published 1960)
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Jun 20, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This is a really well-written book about the history of humankind as seen through the lens of changing technology. To me, political history is less explanatory of why our societies are like they are in each era. Political history doesn't seem to explain much to me. That may be because I'm a science geek.

The history of technology, as it's shown here, has much more explanatory power. Why castles and chivalry and a feudal social order? The technology of war at the time had defensive tech far stron
Nov 25, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: history
Don't read this for the history: many of deCamp's assertions (circa 1960) have been overturned by later archeology. Read it for deCamp's opinions and social commentary. While much of that seems quaint by today's standards, in the early 1960s they were cutting edge.
Jan 24, 2012 rated it did not like it
I don't know why I keep inflicting L. Sprague de Camp books on myself.

With all of the cultural sensitivity and awareness of Lovecraft and the historical acumen of Margaret Murray, de Camp presents the pseudohistory of human achievement as he imagines it might have happened.

With his usual ill-tempered and sneering dismissal and debasement of essentially every human being who ever lived and was unfortunate enough not to be named Lynn de Camp, he will wow you with astonishing facts which include, b
Erik Graff
Oct 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: engineering history fans
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: sciences
This is an accessible history of ancient technology and engineering written for the general public by an author primarily known for his science fiction. Having nothing like modern patent or copyright protections, the ancients tended to keep their technical innovations secret, passing methods on within close, primarily familial, circles. Consequently, many inventions were unique or nearly so and failed to obtain purchase in the broader world. Further, given the oft great abundance of cheap labor, ...more
Oct 23, 2007 rated it really liked it
I read the 1963 edition of this book that I picked up at Barnes & Noble. What a surprise! I love history, trivia, and the way that the past comes to life through the eyes of the people who lived and worked and had modern-day problems to solve: this book was right on target for that. It became obvious that despite the intervening half-century since it was written, there have not been so many earth-shattering discoveries or revelations that would render the scholarship obsolete. The nonstandar ...more
Jan 31, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: books-read-2013
This was originally written in 1962, and is therefore is a little dated. Sprague de Camp has written a book all about the different civilisations and the technologies that that invented or acquired from other neighbouring civilisations.

The book is split into sections on each of the civilisations, so from Egypt to middle ages Europe. The technologies covered are boat building, wind and water power, construction, printing and warfare. Some of it is fascinating, but other parts of it are the author
De Camp takes readers on an interesting tour through the history of technology and architecture. He gives us some ideas on how obelisks were set up, were drilled, and roads were made. What amazes me is how people could create enduring and magnificent works without the advantage of machines and modern measuring tools. Of course, the work of the engineers in this book laid the groundwork for all that we have today. The book shows that we could can do great things if we think creatively and sensibl ...more
Sep 25, 2008 rated it really liked it
A good starter for those who like the history of technology. Austin's Harry Ransom Center has a collection of DeCamp's papers.
A wonderful pre-History Channel experience, and still one of the most readable of books on the puzzles of how ancient civilizations did things.
Jun 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A well-written, even funny at times, overview of the history of technology and invention, and the gradual, stutter-step of progress.
Joey Brockert
Nov 30, 2017 rated it it was amazing

I thought that this would be a tad bit different since I know this author as a science fiction writer, but he did well and showed that he did his homework for this book. Being forty years old, some fallacies and wrong facts were due to be seen, but he really did a good job surveying the field of engineering from ancient times to the renaissance. He did not know that there was a whole civilization before the Sumerians in the fertile crescent and around the Black Sea, which was then a lake. There
Aug 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Good general history of engineering up to the Renaissance.
Nov 17, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful in-depth survey of engineering achievements in ancient times all over the world. Entertaining, informative, a treasure trove.
Mark Jensen
Apr 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a pretty good review of how the engineering arts, particularly military and civil engineering, developed throughout the ages. It is amazing what was accomplished by people willing to experiment and try new techniques when lacking modern conveniences such as the mathematics necessary to calculate loads, etc., not to mention computers to make those calculations easier and more accurate. It's also amazing to see how quickly things can be lost, and de Camp explains that in detail as well as ...more
Dec 21, 2007 rated it liked it
I checked this book out from the library on a recommendation from fierra, when I mentioned wanting to know more about Roman engineering after reading Pompeii: A Novel.

A fairly thick [372 pgs, not counting the notes, bibliography and index], rather dry book, De Camp covers the art and science of engineering from the beginning of recorded history through the early Renaissance. Relatively multi-cultural for the time it was written (1963) it includes chapters on India and China, as well as Mesopota
Jan 05, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book made for great bedtime reading; short, engagingly written accounts of ancient engineers, the cultures they lived in, and the mostly civil works of engineering they created. Bearing in mind when this book was written, a modern reader will find much to sigh about, but after all the Man-with-a-capital-M in the intro, will also find many more admirable aspects of de Camp's often humorous perspective on things.

I would love for a knowledgeable reviewer on GR to comment on the book's archeol
Joshua Drake
A few items may make a modern reader feel a bit awkward, but overall a scholarly work focused on the individuals who we have record of advancing engineering with a microscopic bit of science too.

The author could have spent a bit less time bashing religion, a bit more time on the engineering, and possibly a good deal more time on China, though to the last I am uncertain how much historical information was available to him and to what extent the Chinese advanced civil engineering, which makes up t
Mar 19, 2013 rated it really liked it
Sprague de Camp explains how the ancients built their wonders, despite not having any modern conveniences/technology. Along the way, he also explains WHY our technological wonders come faster now, despite the (evolutionary) evidence that we can't be any more intelligent, biologically, than our ancient ancestors. A fascinating read, with a lot of interesting anecdotes, such as the details of a siege engine built so large that it took two months to move it a quarter mile!
Sep 11, 2015 rated it liked it
A quirky take on the history of technology's advancement. I was too young and naive to understand this book when I first read it. When I refer back to it, I find that it is quite entertaining and often wrong.
Jim Casady
Mar 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I always thought of L.Sprague de Camp as purely a science fiction author, but he writes clearly and reveals new insights on ancient history and how engineering developed.
Norman Howe
May 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This book taught me a lot about ancient technology. Those who think only modern techniques could have built the pyramids should read it.
Manish Katyal
Oct 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Should come with a trigger warning for the millennials.
Barry Haworth
Sep 27, 2014 rated it really liked it
A very interesting excursion into the history of human achievement in the realm of engineering. This book is one I've been meaning to read for some time, and this year I finally got round to it.
Nov 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
This was assigned for a college class, and turned out to be one of the most interesting books/classes. I had to ignore the anti-Christianity tone throughout, though.
Nov 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: books-i-own
The Ancient Engineers by L. Sprague De Camp (1974)
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May 16, 2010
Delmar H. Dolbier
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Aug 30, 2015
Apr 06, 2017 rated it liked it
I'll be honest my expectations for this book as an engineering student were pretty high, with it being difficult to find a light read in engineering I was excited the first time I flipped through this book seeing the diagrams and the variety of engineering culture. However while reading the author tended to get side tracked by discussing the politics and religion a bit to heavily for a book centered on engineering he could have instead went into more detail about the designs and inventions and m ...more
Chris Stein
rated it it was amazing
Jul 20, 2017
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Jan 23, 2013
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Lyon Sprague de Camp, (Pseudonym: Lyman R. Lyon) was an American science fiction and fantasy author and biographer. In a writing career spanning fifty years he wrote over one hundred books, including novels and notable works of nonfiction, such as biographies of other important fantasy authors.He was widely regarded as an imaginative and innovative writer and was an important figure in the heyday ...more