From the dawn of history to the rise of the scientific method in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, invention and technology advanced with painful slowness. The reason was not that men were stupid during those thousands of years--it was the fact that most people were simply too busy trying to keep alive. The imagination and daring that leisure and security could divert to other ends were limited to a tiny group. It is about these brave men--whose genius enabled the Egyptians to build their pyramids, the Phoenicians to ...
From the dawn of history to the rise of the scientific method in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, invention and technology advanced with painful slowness. The reason was not that men were stupid during those thousands of years--it was the fact that most people were simply too busy trying to keep alive. The imagination and daring that leisure and security could divert to other ends were limited to a tiny group. It is about these brave men--whose genius enabled the Egyptians to build their pyramids, the Phoenicians to cross stormy seas, the Romans to erect magnificent public buildings--that this carefully researched and fascinatingly written account of the advance of early technology has been written.Mr. de Camp describes the methods used by early irrigators, architects, and military engineers to build and maintain structures to serve their rulers' wants. He tells, for example, how the Pharaohs erected obelisks and pyramids, how Nebuchadnezzar fortified Babylon, how Dionysios' ordnance department invented the catapult, how the Chinese built the Great Wall, and how the Romans fashioned their roads, baths, sewers, and aqueducts. He recounts many intriguing anecdotes: an Assyrian king putting up no-parking signs in Nineveh; Plato inventing a water clock with an alarm to signal the start of his classes; Heron of Alexandria designing a coin-operated holy-water fountain; a Chinese emperor composing a poem to be inscribed on a clock invented by one of his civil servants."The Ancient Engineers" will delight students of technology and invention for its accurate portrayal of the foundations of modern engineering as well as lovers of history for its penetrating look at the material background of civilization and its unusual explanations of the world's social evolution.
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As with de Camp's other nonfiction, I found this book clear, informative, and showing no mercy to superstitions regarding "ancient astronauts" and the like. The pyramids, for instance, were built by MEN, and NOT men who had access to some super-science now lost. de Camp also writes with a dry, laconic wit, as when he suggests that the reason for some aspects of the Great Pyramid's internal structure may have been that the pharaoh had a touch of claustrophobia and couldn't bear the thought of the pyramid's full bulk being above him.
Some, but not most, of the information here has been rendered out-of-date by archaeological discoveries since the time of writing. A quibble is that the romanizations de Camp uses for people whose names were not originally in the Roman alphabet are sometimes a bit obscure by today's standards, i.e., mentioning the founder of the Taoist philosophy under the name "Lau-dz" rather than the more usually seen "Lao-tse." This is only a very minor point, however, as the identities of these persons are always clearly described.
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