Book Review

Lost Discoveries: The Ancient Roots of Modern Science -- from the Babylonians to the Maya by Dick Teresi, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2002; 464 pages, ISBN 0684837188, hardback, $27.00.

Science, we are generally told, originated with the Greeks around 600 BC, developed in the European Renaissance, and was perfected in the modern West. Because of educators' interest in cultural diversity, multicultural science curricula began to appear in various school districts in the 1980s, but unfortunately many contained distorted, inaccurate, and speculative information. In the early 1990s Dick Teresi, science writer and cofounder of Omni magazine, accepted an assignment to expose and document faulty multicultural science being taught in American schools.

I began to write with the purpose of showing that the pursuit of evidence of nonwhite science is a fruitless endeavor. I felt that it was only responsible, however, to attempt to find what meager legitimate non-European science might exist. Six years later, I was still finding examples of ancient and medieval non-Western science that equaled and often surpassed ancient Greek learning.

My embarrassment at having undertaken an assignment with the assumption that non-Europeans contributed little to science has been overtaken by the pleasure of discovering mountains of unappreciated human industry, four thousand years of scientific discoveries by peoples I had been taught to disregard. -- p. 15

In this unusual history the author shares with the general reader his explorations in mathematics, astronomy, cosmology, physics, geology, chemistry, and technology, discussing contributions from Egypt, the ancient Near East, Islam, India, China, ancient America, and Oceania. Mainstream rather than "New Age" in its scientific outlook, the manuscript was reviewed for factual accuracy by nine prominent scholars, some with a non-Western and others with a Western bias. Their comments, when differing in interpretation, are often included in the extensive endnotes. The bibliography provides a starting place for further research on specific topics. Sarah Belle Dougherty


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