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November 3, 2011

Book Review - The Abacus & the Cross by Nancy Marie Brown

I'm always a sucker for History books regarding a period I know little to nothing about. My "to read" list of books is so long, however, that I don't actively seek them out that often. I'd be overloaded.

That's one cool thing about reviewing for Curled Up With a Good Book. The editor gets books from publishers and has a list of these books available for reviewers. If I happen to find an interesting-sounding book on the list that covers a period I'm interested in, I snap it up.

It can make for a tall "to read" pile, though.

The latest example of a successful find using this method is Nancy Marie Brown's The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages (believe me, I won't be typing all of that again). It's a great history of a period that I know nothing about. It's also a scientific history, and a biography of a man named Gerbert who later became Pope Sylvester II. All rolled into one! How can you go wrong with that?

Brown is a science author, but she's changed hats slightly to take on a historical biography. It's still very heavily-oriented toward the Math, though. Enough so that it might turn you off. Sticking with it bears fruit, though, if you're interested in the time period right around 1000 AD.

She also manages to put some historical myths to rest as well.

From my reviewon Curled Up:
"First thing, she puts to rest the common impression that people throughout the Christian world mortally feared the coming of the year 1000 as the time when Christ would return and the Apocalypse would ensue. While some feared that, the impression that this was widespread does not appear to be true. She opens the book discussing this; instead of dealing with this coming calamity, Pope Sylvester is instead writing a letter about the best method of finding the area of a triangle.

In writing Gerbert's biography, Brown also attempts to dispel the notion that the Dark Ages were completely overrun by superstition and ignorance. Religious institutions housed scholars who explored the world of mathematics and science, including Gerbert's creation of the abacus. There were interactions between the Islamic and Christian worlds, so Gerbert and others were exposed to many ancient works of mathematics and science housed in Baghdad and other repositories."
The book is a solid biography and well worth reading for those so inclined.

Let me know what you think!

(Nobody ever lets me know what they think...)


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