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The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World

3.3  ·  Rating details ·  373 Ratings  ·  68 Reviews
Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly the mariners in Amalfi in the twelfth century were. Here the compass was first invented and used in navigation, eventually helping to make Italians the world's greatest sailors.
But the story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth. It begins in ancient China around the birth of Christ. A mysteri
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Hardcover, 200 pages
Published August 16th 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published May 2nd 2001)
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Motahare Ghaderi
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 در
این 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
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
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Mark
May 18, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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-
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Charlie
Mar 28, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
Oct 25, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: n-science
This was a great read, describing how the compass was invented and how it changed the world.
Joey Robert
Aug 15, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
Interesting title. Nice cover art. Impressive author background. Below average writing level. All hype and very little substance.
Becca
Mar 06, 2018 rated it liked it
The Riddle of the Compass: The Invention That Changed the World was an interesting quick read on the early days of compass navigation, though it did leave a bit to be desired. I picked it up after reading Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time (which is excellent, if you haven't read it) and was let down. For one thing, Aczel meandered through unnecessary topics and got mired in the weeds of early Venetian politics. At the end of the day ...more
Karen GoatKeeper
May 29, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, read2018
Amalfi, Italy, claims to be where the compass was invented. China claims to be where the compass was invented. Aczel went in search of the truth.
Most people don't think about a compass much now. Yet the compass was one of those inventions that changed the world. It changed commerce. It found new worlds. It changed transportation. It is still essential, even with GPS.
The compass we know today is really two things. One is the lodestone or magnet that orientates itself with the Earth's magnetic fie
...more
Tony
Mar 14, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
THE RIDDLE OF THE COMPASS: The Invention That Changed the World. (2001). Amir D. Aczel. **.
The biggest riddle about this book is why it was written. It became obvious that a compass prototype was first developed and used by the Chinese many years before the instrument came into use in the West. That’s OK, because to fill in the blanks we can learn about latitude and longitude, and the history of sailing. Then there is a sidebar to the prominence of Venice in the world of shipping. Whoops! Don’t
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Susan
Mar 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I so expected to love this small well designed book with its beautiful cover. I liked the feel of it in the hand and even the author's name - Amir D. Aczel - was intriguing. Unfortunately, The Riddle of the Compass fell far short of expectations. While I finished the book, Aczel's writing never captured me. Now, logging in this review weeks after reading, I realize how little of this book has stayed with me. If the Riddle of the Compass was ever solved, I couldn't say.
Michal
it was interesting at the beginning and then i felt he was repeating things and then I felt as if the chapters were padded. Like too long to be a magazine feature but not enough material to make a full length book.
He also stated technological developments that resulted because of the magnetic compass but never provide any supporting evidence.
I guess I wanted/expected more.
Tom
Mar 15, 2018 rated it did not like it
The title is misleading and the history the author presents can be considered accurate although there are little in the way of references. This is not a book I would ever recommend.
Wendy
Mar 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-calibre
He tries to make no information into an interesting book.
C
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
_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
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Lee
Nov 07, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science-nature
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 restrict
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Alex Telander
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 sim ...more
Laurent
Jan 02, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
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
...more
Ensiform
Feb 17, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
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 erudi ...more
CB
Dec 29, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, non-fiction
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 ...more
Kristi Thielen
Apr 18, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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Mary
Jul 24, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Mary by: found it at public library
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 disposa
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Kris
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 classr ...more
Ewatson
Feb 27, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 wo ...more
Jerry B
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 pl ...more
John E
Jun 30, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Lisa
Jun 09, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: science-nature
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
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
Mar 16, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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!
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Amir Aczel was an Israeli-born American author of popular science and mathematics books. He was a lecturer in mathematics and history of mathematics.

He studied at the University of California, Berkeley. Getting graduating with a BA in mathematics in 1975, received a Master of Science in 1976 and several years later accomplished his Ph.D. in Statistics from the University of Oregon. He died in Nîme
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