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The Abacus and The Cross: The Story of The Pope Who Brought The Light of Science To The Dark Ages
Running Press Book Publishers / 2010 / Hardcover
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Some scholars have asserted that the medieval church was a cauldron of intolerance and anti-intellectualism. But in the year 1000, the reigning pope was Sylvester II, the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day. He was the first known Christian to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals and zero. A little-known story wondrously told. 320 pages, hardcover.
The medieval Catholic Church, widely considered a source of intolerance and inquisitorial fervor, was not anti-science during the Dark Agesin fact, the pope in the year 1000 was the leading mathematician and astronomer of his day. Called The Scientist Pope,” Gerbert of Aurillac rose from peasant beginnings to lead the church. By turns a teacher, traitor, kingmaker, and visionary, Gerbert is the first Christian known to teach math using the nine Arabic numerals and zero.
In The Abacus and the Cross, Nancy Marie Brown skillfully explores the new learning Gerbert brought to Europe. A fascinating narrative of one remarkable math teacher, The Abacus and the Cross will captivate readers of history, science, and religion alike.
Nancy Marie Brown is the author of The Far Traveler: Voyages of a Viking Woman and Mendel in the Kitchen, named one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2004 by Library Journal. She lives in Vermont.
Keith Devlin, Stanford University professor and author of Fibonaccis Bridge of Numbers: the Medieval Visionary and the Book that Launched the Modern World
Marilyn Yalom, author of Birth of the Chess Queen
"This book will change how you think about the so-called Dark Ages. Well-researched, well-written, and vividly illuminating."
Pat Shipman, Professor of Anthropology at the Pennsylvania State University and author of Femme Fatale: Love, Lies, and the Unknown Life of Mata Hari
"Nancy Marie Brown again uses her extraordinary ability to bring medieval time to life in The Abacus and the Cross, in the person of the Scientist Pope Gerbert of Aurillac (later Pope Sylvester II). Working from sparse records, Brown manages to tell us of the remarkable scholar, brilliant mathematician, and inveterate punster who loved both his holy orders and luxurious living. She shows us a time in which the route to God lay through the study of science and math and when intellectual developments flowed across the boundaries of religion and empire in Eurasia. This is a remarkable book that reflects on our modern times on every page."
Jeff Sypeck, author of Becoming Charlemagne"A pleasure to read, The Abacus and the Cross draws readers into a world of intrigue, superstition, and scholarship. Nancy Marie Brown writes lucidly about math and science, finding important stories in the lives of medieval people who deserve to be widely remembered."
Science Writers Magazine
"As she reconstructs the strangely illuminated Europe of the Dark Ages, Brown reminds readers that the major conflicts in our world todaybetween Christianity and Islam, between religion and scienceare products of our own age, not historical inevitabilities."
"As readably knowledgeable about Gerberts political fortunes as about his intellectual influence, Brown is a lively narrator and interesting interpreter of Gerberts life and world. This portrait gives both the science and the history audiences something to talk about."
"A rags-to-riches saga… captures how the direction of history can be influenced by one person. . . . Had Gerbert lived longer and been more politically savvy, Browns portrait makes one believe his ability to teach might have jump-started science before the Dark Ages enveloped Europe. VERDICT: Enjoyable to read, informative, and highly recommended for all history and history of science buffs."
Maria Rosa Menocal, author of The Ornament of the World and co-author of The Arts of Intimacy
"Overflowing with illuminating material, The Abacus and the Cross is the biography of a vital moment we know precious little about: the second half of the tenth century, when Gerbert of Aurillac, the man who would be pope at the much-anticipated millennium, came of age. Among Browns many virtues is her ability to weave the intellectual and the material into a seamless narrative, so that when her readers learn about what books the monks of a monastery might be copyingand how those volumes connect to the intellectual past and futurethey are also going to learn the mechanics of the copying itself, beginning with the cultivation of the animals whose skins will become parchment. She has the scientists eye for detail and the historians gift of storytelling and she has not one but dozens of great stories to tell about this transformative moment in Latin Christendom, as it began to embrace the foundations of modern science and technology."
Richard Rubenstein, author of Aristotles Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages
"The Abacus and the Cross tells the fascinating, little known story of the Scientist-Pope Sylvester II (Gerbert of Aurillac), whom older writers long considered a practitioner of the Black Arts. In this vividly presented, scrupulously researched biography, Nancy Marie Brown shows how a few open-minded intellectuals illuminated the Dark Ages by importing scientific knowledge and methods into Christian Europe from Muslim Spain. Browns descriptions of Gerberts magical instruments, the abacus, celestial spheres, and astrolabe, as well as of his worship of a mathematically-inspired Creator, make important contributions to the history of medieval science."
The New York Journal of Books
"Ms. Browns easily readable history draws the reader into a world of political intrigue, the excitement of introducing the abacus and astrolabe to Europe, and the shaky ground that surrounding the broader culture of Europe around 1000. Her book is a useful reminder that clear and well-reasoned history is by no means simplistic. The story of dAurillacs life and papacy shows a medieval milieu more complex than oft portrayed."
America Magazine (National Catholic Weekly)
"Touring the late 10th century via Nancy Marie Browns masterful recounting of the life and times of Gerbert of Aurillac, the French monk who became Pope Sylvester II, requires an intellectual Baedeker of sorts, one that Brown aptly and affably provides. . . . The Abacus and the Cross provides at once an engaging encounter with a figure of interest and influence, and a way to see the issues Gerbert confronts as having modern parallels. A grand tour, indeed."
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