Warning: Unless you’re interested in mathematics or history you’d be wise to stay away from this book. Not that I’m attempting to frighten you off. Quite the opposite, really, because The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist is a very interesting book, quite entertaining, sometimes funny, always engaging. It’s not an easy read, mainly because most of the story is about the provenance and history of the prayer book, as much as it’s been able to be pieced together that is, while the underlying and overarching theme is mathematics, and it’s seldom simple math.
The Archimedes Codex begins with the auction of the book at Christie’s in New York, a book that was being fought over as it went to auction, and afterwards, as well. Just as many noted pieces of artwork and archaeological treasures are being fought over on a daily basis, both in the courts and in various countries’ ruling bodies, the Codex is not exempt.
This is a Codex-centric story of ancient books and libraries in general, a general history of who sacked which city when, and who killed whom. Thrown in is a bird’s eye view of one of the most glorious and wonderful cities in the world: Stamboul, Istambul, or Constantinople, now known as Istanbul, the only city on Earth to span two continents. And because of Constantinople’s history as a city fought over by people from three continents, we’re given a fair share of Roman, Greek, and European history, as well as a dose of North African history. Think the Middle East and countries bordering the Mediterranean are bad now? Ya shoulda been there one or two thousand years ago. You think war is bad now? “While Constantine VII wrote a book on the administration of the empire in 1014AD, Basil II took 14,000 Bulgarians prisoner and blinded 99 out of every 100; the lucky one got to guide his comrades home.”