Sometimes it pays to be in the right place at the right time. Certainly the mariners in Amalfi in the twelfth century were. Here the compass was first invented and used in navigation, eventually helping to make Italians the world's greatest sailors.
But the story of the compass is shrouded in mystery and myth. It begins in ancient China around the birth of Christ. A mysterious lodestone whose powers affected metal was known to the Emperor. This piece of metal suspended in water always pointed north and was put to excellent use in feng shui, the Chinese art of finding the right location. However, it was the Italians who unleashed the compass's formidable powers on ships at sea.
Throughout the ancient world, sailors navigated by wind, and stars, and the routes of migrating birds, but bad weather and winter storms impeded their travels. When the compass migrated to Italy, the modern world began: Venice, trade with the East, the Age of Discovery. The compass made it all possible, and this is its fascinating story.
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Published in hardcover by Harcourt, 2001, 0-15-100506-0
Amir D. Aczel, Ph.D. grew up on a ship and was navigating straits in the Mediterranean long before he could drive a car. The author of Fermat's Last Theorem, God's Equation, The Mystery of the Aleph, and Probability 1, he lives with his wife and daughter in the Boston area and teaches at Bentley College.
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