The Clock and the Camshaft: And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can't Live Without

The Clock and the Camshaft: And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can't Live Without

by John W. Farrell


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Highlights the importance of medieval innovations as the basis for later technological progress

This history of medieval inventions, focusing on the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, vividly portrays a thriving era of human ingenuity—and the results are still being felt to this day. From the mechanical clock to the first eyeglasses, both of which revolutionized society, many of the commonplace devices we now take for granted had their origin in the Middle Ages. Divided into ten thematic chapters, the accessible text allows the reader to sample areas of interest or read the book from beginning to end for a complete historical overview.

A chapter on the paper revolution shows that innovations in mill power enabled the mass production of cheap paper, which was instrumental in the later success of the printing press as a means of disseminating affordable books to more people. Another chapter examines the importance of Islamic civilization in preserving ancient Greek texts and the role of translation teams in Sicily and Spain in making those texts available in Latin for a European readership. A chapter on instruments of discovery describes the impact of the astrolabe, which was imported from Islamic lands, and the compass, originally invented in China; these tools plus innovations in ship building spurred on the expansion of European trade and the later age of discovery at the time of Columbus.

Complete with original drawings to illustrate how these early inventions worked, this guided tour through a distant era reveals how medieval farmers, craftsmen, women artisans, and clerical scholars laid the foundations of the modern world.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781633885721
Publisher: Prometheus Books
Publication date: 05/29/2020
Pages: 192
Sales rank: 1,226,903
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

John W. Farrell is a writer and producer working in Boston. He is the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. A graduate of Harvard College with a B.A. in English and American Literature, Farrell has written for Commonweal, the Wall Street Journal, Aeon, Skeptic, Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, the Boston Globe, Salon, National Review, Huffington Post, First Things, and The Tablet of London, and he writes a science blog for Forbes. In 2010, he was a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Chapter 1 An Ancient Inheritance 1

Chapter 2 Harnessing Nature's Power 15

Chapter 3 The Crank and the Camshaft 35

Chapter 4 The Paper Explosion 51

Chapter 5 The Great Escapement 65

Chapter 6 The Cathedral Crusade 79

Chapter 7 From Greek to Arabic and Back Again 97

Chapter 8 Through a Glass, Not Darkly 117

Chapter 9 Monks and Nuns Incorporated 127

Chapter 10 Instruments of Discovery 145

Notes 161

Bibliography 169

Index 175

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