“The Riddle of the Compass” by Amir D. Aczel (Harcourt, 2001)

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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.

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Originally published in July/August 2002.

Originally published in the Long Beach Union.