Lost Discoveries, Dick Teresi's innovative history of science, explores the unheralded scientific breakthroughs from peoples of the ancient world -- Babylonians, Egyptians, Indians, Africans, New World and Oceanic tribes, among others -- and the non-European medieval world. They left an enormous heritage in the fields of mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, physics, geology, chemistry, and technology.
The mathematical foundation of Western science is a gift from the Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Babylonians, and Maya. The ancient Egyptians developed the concept of the lowest common denominator, and they developed a fraction table that modern scholars estimate required 28,000 calculations to compile. The Babylonians developed the first written math and used a place-value number system. Our numerals, 0 through 9, were invented in ancient India; the Indians also boasted geometry, trigonometry, and a kind of calculus.
Planetary astronomy as well may have begun with the ancient Indians, who correctly identified the relative distances of the known planets from the sun, and knew the moon was nearer to the earth than the sun was. The Chinese observed, reported, dated, recorded, and interpreted eclipses between 1400 and 1200 b.c. Most of the names of our stars and constellations are Arabic. Arabs built the first observatories.
Five thousand years ago, the Sumerians said the earth was circular. In the sixth century, a Hindu astronomer taught that the daily rotation of the earth on its axis provided the rising and setting of the sun. Chinese and Arab scholars were the first to use fossils scientifically to trace earth's history.
Chinese alchemists realized that most physical substances were merely combinations of other substances, which could be mixed in different proportions. Islamic scholars are legendary for translating scientific texts of many languages into Arabic, a tradition that began with alchemical books. In the eleventh century, Avicenna of Persia divined that outward qualities of metals were of little value in classification, and he stressed internal structure, a notion anticipating Mendeleyev's periodic chart of elements.
Iron suspension bridges came from Kashmir, printing from India; papermaking was from China, Tibet, India, and Baghdad; movable type was invented by Pi Sheng in about 1041; the Quechuan Indians of Peru were the first to vulcanize rubber; Andean farmers were the first to freeze-dry potatoes. European explorers depended heavily on Indian and Filipino shipbuilders, and collected maps and sea charts from Javanese and Arab merchants.
The first comprehensive, authoritative, popularly written, multicultural history of science, Lost Discoveries fills a crucial gap in the history of science.
Dick Teresi is the author or coauthor of several books about science and technology, including The God Particle. He is cofounder of Omni magazine and has written for Discover, The New York Times Magazine, and The Atlantic Monthly, and is a frequent reviewer and essayist for The New York Times Book Review. He lives in Amherst, Massachusetts.
Dava Sobel Author of Galileo's Daughter and Longitude If you think, as I did, that science flowered in ancient Greece -- the way Athena sprang fully formed from the brow of Zeus -- then read Dick Teresi's Lost Discoveries and revel in the global expression of early genius, from Sumerian mathematics and ancient Indian particle physics to the sky maps of the Skidi Pawnee and the rubber 'factories' of the Aztecs.
Leon Lederman Winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and coauthor of The God Particle Wow, Teresi's Lost Discoveries is a romp through the history of mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, physics, geology, chemistry, and technology. Teresi must have pored through tons of ancient manuscripts and scholarly compendia to unearth a rich mine of historical achievements of largely non-Western civilizations that preceded and enabled the Golden Age of Greece. For science buffs who are curious about 'How do we know?' and 'How did we learn?' this is a spectacular canvas, and it illuminates the power of cultural diversity. Yes, there were peaks in the progress of science, but today science is the only universal culture, the same in the West, East, North, and South. Teresi's important book helps to explain why.
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