The Clock and the Camshaft: And Other Medieval Inventions We Still Can't Live Without

John W. Farrell (Author)


Highlights the importance of medieval innovations as the basis for later technological progress This history of medieval inventions, focusing on the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries, vividly portrays a thriving era of human ingenuity--and the results are still being felt to this day. From the mechanical clock to the first eyeglasses, both of which revolutionized society, many of the commonplace devices we now take for granted had their origin in the Middle Ages. Divided into ten thematic chapters, the accessible text allows the reader to sample areas of interest or read the book from beginning to end for a complete historical overview. A chapter on the paper revolution shows that innovations in mill power enabled the mass production of cheap paper, which was instrumental in the later success of the printing press as a means of disseminating affordable books to more people. Another chapter examines the importance of Islamic civilization in preserving ancient Greek texts and the role of translation teams in Sicily and Spain in making those texts available in Latin for a European readership. A chapter on instruments of discovery describes the impact of the astrolabe, which was imported from Islamic lands, and the compass, originally invented in China; these tools plus innovations in ship building spurred on the expansion of European trade and the later age of discovery at the time of Columbus. Complete with original drawings to illustrate how these early inventions worked, this guided tour through a distant era reveals how medieval farmers, craftsmen, women artisans, and clerical scholars laid the foundations of the modern world.

Product Details

$19.00  $17.48
Prometheus Books
Publish Date
May 29, 2020
5.9 X 0.7 X 8.9 inches | 0.65 pounds
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About the Author

John W. Farrell is a writer and producer working in Boston. He is the author of The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaître, Einstein and the Birth of Modern Cosmology. A graduate of Harvard College with a B.A. in English and American Literature, Farrell has written for Commonweal, the Wall Street Journal, Aeon, Skeptic, Cosmos Magazine, New Scientist, the Boston Globe, Salon, National Review, Huffington Post, First Things, and The Tablet of London, and he writes a science blog for Forbes. In 2010, he was a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.


"Medieval inventions were both homegrown -like the windmill -and imported from the Arab east, where advanced mathematics like algebra made it possible to fashion a new science of astronomy based on a calculating device -like the astrolabe. Even more transformative was the mechanical clock of the thirteenth century, which generated such features of modernity as precision measurement, and the legal revolution which enabled the formation of corporate units with legal personality. John Farrell's account of medieval inventions and inventivity is as varied as the medieval world itself." -Thomas F. Glick, Emeritus Professor of History at Boston University and historian of technology
"John Farrell's remarkable excursion through scores of medieval inventions proves, beyond any doubt, that every aspect of modern technology has its roots in the past. Be prepared for a surprising introduction to some of the fascinating inventions -and fascinating minds -of the so-called Middle Ages. A great read!" -Kenneth R. Miller, Professor of Biology, Brown University and author of Finding Darwin's God and Only a Theory
"The urge to innovate wasn't invented in Silicon Valley. As John Farrell's fascinating book demonstrates, even the more leisurely rhythms of the Middle Ages led to a plethora of inventions, from mass-produced paper to horological escapements. It's eye-opening to read about the innovations that continue to prove their value today." -Sean Carroll, author of Something Deeply Hidden: Quantum Worlds and the Emergence of Spacetime