David King: World-maps for Finding the Direction and Distance to Mecca

If one finds a microchip in a tomb in a pyramid then either some modern put it there or we should revise our opinions of the technological achievements of the ancient Egyptians…But perhaps the idea behind the microchip is simpler than most people would think.

These tantalizing opening lines of a book, whose somewhat misleading and euphemistic title and short “Foreword” suggest that it is a book about the discovery of two scientific instruments (simply called A and B) previously unknown to the historians of science, leads us directly into the heart of a fascinating work by one of the most respected historians of Islamic scientific tradition. But the writing of this work seems to have progressed through spurts of creative insights, meticulous rechecking of facts, figures, data, and, sadly, through numerous after-thoughts. Thus, the work, though coherent in its parts and concise in its details, suffers from an internal incoherence, as if the paint has been applied on unprepared walls, as if the growth of the book has been allowed to happen without a general plan. But in spite of this, the book is a fascinating account of two creative processes which intersect each other at various levels and planes throughout the book: the one dealing with the mysterious instruments and the other providing insights into the working of a creative and analytical mind; both processes provide an opportunity to know more intimately the person behind the book whose solitary labor of love and decades of research have blunted none of the human qualities that one expects from a scholar studying Islamic tradition—a tradition which is deeply entrenched and rooted in genuine human relationships.

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