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Eureka man : the life and legacy of Archimedes

by Alan Hirshfeld

  Print book : Biography  |  1st U.S. ed

Eureka man: the life and legacy of Archimedes    (2013-01-13)

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by wppalmer

Review of Eureka man: the life and legacy of Archimedes by Alan Hirshfeld.

CITATION: Hirshfeld, A. W. (2009). Eureka man: the life and legacy of Archimedes. New York: Walker and Company.

Reviewer: Dr W. P. Palmer

`Eureka man: the life and legacy of Archimedes' makes interesting reading. However don't expect a biography with full biographical details. The fact is that only a limited amount of information is available about Archimedes' life or as Hirshfeld states `the face he presented to his fellow citizens of Syracuse- will always lie in shadow,...' (p. 13). We learn that Archimedes was born `around 287BC' (p. 16) and that he died in the Roman siege of Syracuse in 212BC (p. 99). The first part of the book (Chapters 1-6) covers the little that is known of Archimedes' life. There is also information about the geography and history of Syracuse and its wars with Rome. Also there are details of Archimedes relationship with the kings of Syracuse, his inventions, including his military inventions and his mastery of Syracuse's defenses, with some information about his writings.

The second part of the book presents us with a history of the books that Archimedes wrote as well as how some particular works (his treatises) were discovered underneath the writings of early Christian authors as they had used an existing small book (a codex) made of parchment. Parchment was made from calf-skin and was in short supply so it was often cheaper to re-use existing books. This book (Archimedes' Palimpsest) disappeared and reappeared several times in history and this account provides the major part of the book (Chapters 7-14).

The final chapter (the appendix) attempts to investigate two myths about Archimedes. Did Archimedes run naked through the streets of Syracuse shouting `Eureka'? Did he invent a system of mirrors that set fire to Roman galleys at a distance? Hirshfeld believes that the answer to both questions is likely to be negative.

Overall this makes a good read.


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