The young scholar Archimedes has just had the best three years of his life at Ptolemy's Museum at Alexandria. To be able to talk and think all day, every day, sharing ideas and information with the world's greatest minds, is heaven to Archimedes. But heaven must be forsaken when he learns that his father is ailing, and his home city of Syracuse is at war with the Romans.Reluctant but resigned, Archimedes takes himself home to find a job building catapults as a royal engineer. Though Syracuse is no Alexandria, Archimedes also finds that life at home isn't as boring or confining as he originally thought. He finds fame and loss, love and war, wealth and betrayal-none of which affects him nearly as much as the divine beauty of mathematics. At the publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management software (DRM) applied.
Armed with just a few antique facts, Bradshaw ably recreates the extraordinary life of Archimedes, the great mathematician and engineer who built sophisticated weapons during the first Punic War. Archimedes lived in the Greek city of Syracuse from 287 to 212 B.C., except for a brief but glorious youthful stint in Alexandria, the hub of intellectual life in the classical age. Surrounded by men who share his genius for geometry, the absentminded Archimedes becomes intoxicated by numbers, often scribbling diagrams on tablecloths and staring for hours into a box of sand to calculate grains. After three years, he begrudgingly returns to his hometown with his slave, Marcus, to find his father dying and his city at war with the Romans. Putting his engineering skills to use for the army, Archimedes builds bigger and better catapults, and he is soon being courted for his talent by the good King Hieron. Jealous co-workers and an unexpected betrayal shadow Archimedes's rise to fame as the Archimechanic. But Syracuse is winning the war because of his inventions, and King Hieron gives him the royal treatment in an effort to keep him from accepting a job offer from King Ptolemy of Egypt. Archimedes sets his sights on Delia, King Hieron's half-sister, with whom he shares a love of music, but he must choose between her and the fair city of Alexandria, between a career as a simple engineer and the siren call of pure mathematics. Bradshaw (Island of Ghosts) is skilled at bringing historical figures to life, and this intriguing and entertaining novel of the boyish dreamer who possessed one of the ancient world's most brilliant minds demonstrates her vivid imagination. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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March 31, 2010
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Excerpt from Sand-Reckoner by Gillian Bradshaw
1 nbsp; nbsp; The box was full of sand. It was fine, glassy sand, almost white; it was moist, and had been flattened, then scraped smooth to produce a surface as level and firm as the finest parchment. But the sunlight, falling obliquely with the afternoon, glinted here and there on the edges of individual grains, catching on facets too small for the eye to distinguish. Innumerable facets, one would say—only each made a distinct point of brightness, and the young man looking at them suddenly found himself wondering if he could number them. It was an old box. The olive-wood frame was scarred and battered, the dull bronze which bound the corners scratched here and there into new brightness. The young man set his hand against one of those scratched corners, calculating: the box was four finger-breadths high, but there was a groove for the lid, and the sand only filled it halfway. He did not need to measure the length and width: he had long before marked the rim with notches a finger-breadth apart, twenty-four down one side and sixteen down the other. He crouched over the box, which he had carefully placed in the quietest part of the ship’s stern deck, out of the way of the sailors. Using one leg of the set of compasses he was holding, he began to scratch calculations in the sand. Say that ten grains of sand could fit in a poppy seed, and twenty-five poppy seeds could sit upon the breadth of a finger. There would then be six thousand by four thousand by five hundred grains of sand in the box. Six thousand by four thousand was two thousand four hundred myriads; multiply that by five hundred… He blinked, frowning. His hands slipped nervelessly down his sides, and the point of the compasses scratched his shin. Absentmindedly, he rubbed at the scratch, then raised the compasses to his mouth and sucked their hinge while he continued to stare. This was aninterestingproblem: the number of grains of sand in the box was a bigger number than he could express. A myriad—ten thousand—was the largest number his language had a name for, and his system of writing contained no symbol for the indefinitely extendablezero. There was no way to write down a number greater than a myriad myriads. What term could he find for the inexpressible? Start with what he knew. The largest expressible number was a myriad myriads. Very well, let that be a new unit. Myriad was writtenM, so this could beMwith a line under it: M . How many of them did he need? The blank white surface before him was suddenly covered in shadow, and behind him a voice said wearily, “Archimedes?” The young man took his compasses out of his mouth and turned, beaming. He was thin, long-limbed, and angular, and the general effect as he twisted about was of a grasshopper preparing to jump. “It’s a hundred and twenty myriads-of-myriads!” he exclaimed in triumph, brushing back a tangle of brown hair and regarding his interrupter with a pair of bright brown eyes. The man behind him—a somewhat older, burly, black-haired man with a broken nose—gave an exasperated sigh. “Sir,” he said, “we’re coming into the harbor.” Archimedes didn’t hear him; he had already turned back to the box of sand. There was no such thing as an inexpressibly large number! If a myriad-of-myriads could be a unit, why stop there? Once you reached a myriad-of-myriads myriads-of-myriads you could callthatyour new unit, and go on again! His mind soared over the exhilarating reaches of infinity. He put his compasses back into his mouth and bit them excitedly. “Marcus,” he said eagerly, “what’s the biggest number you can imagine? The number of grains of sand in Egypt—no, in the world! No! How many grains of sand