The Archimedes Codex


General Culture

[Strictly speaking, this isn’t really a book review, even though you can treat it like one.] One of the things that I have been always interested in is how texts from antiquity made it into modern times, and I’ve always wanted to find out more about it. I thus got very excited when I came across The Archimedes Codex, a book that talks about the discovery and deciphering of a previously unknown text by Archimedes, who is widely believed to be one of the most important scientists to ever have lived on this planet (something I personally don’t care all that much about, but that’s just my personal bias).

My enthusiasm faded extremely quickly, though, when I started to read the book, realizing that the book in fact was like a mirror image of the prayer book it was talking about: The useful information is hidden underneath a completely unwanted layer of other text. In the case of the Archimedes text, it’s the prayers written on top of a medieval copy of Archimedes’ work. In the case of The Archimedes Codex, it’s the atrociously bad writing style that obfuscates a very interesting story and discovery, and turns what could have been a wonderful popular science book into something that reads as if Dan Brown had written it (“You’ve got mail. Sam Fogg. Left Click”).

It’s a real shame, since it’s a very interesting story. But reading how an author is basically gushing about himself and the people he is working with, reading descriptions of science whose narrowness makes them sound as if they’re rooted in a fair amount of ignorance, and finding way too many “sentences” that consist of just one word (where’s a good editor when you need one?) is just too much.

The Archimedes Codex is the kind of book that’s a good read when, after a sleepless trans-Atlantic flight, they serve “breakfast”: The period in time when you’re insanely exhausted and tired, but when you know you just have to keep busy somehow, so some extremely light reading will do (Radar magazine is good for that, too) - the kind of reading where, when you miss a couple pages, you still haven’t really missed anything, and your reptilian brain is happy with simple entertainment, whereas your inner adult is way too tired to try to keep up intellectual appearances.