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L3: The Book Of Secrets

Our review of books on da Vinci brought forth a welcomed slew of suggestions regarding technological achievements from times past. All of them were fascinating and worthy of coverage, but the one which stood out was The Book of Secrets by the Andalusian engineer Ibn Khalaf al-Muradi.

The original dates back to the eleventh century. A copy of it was made in Toledo, Spain in 1266. The only copy of this manuscript is conserved in the Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana in Florence. The thousand-year-old manuscript is a collection of drawings and descriptions of more than thirty fascinating devices, from mechanical apparatuses to water clocks to automatic calendars to war machines. The manuscript is important to the field of the history of science because it gives us a clear view of the sophisticated understanding of complex mechanics by ancient engineers.

Leonardo3, the same publishing house responsible for all of those wonderful interactive da Vinci books, has created a four-volume work interpreting the contents of The Book of Secrets:

  • 96 page color reproduction of the original Book of Secrets
  • 196 page book in English with color illustrations and interpretations
  • 196 page version in Arabic with color illustrations and interpretations
  • Interactive CD-ROM with the 32 machines rendered in 3D

This is the first time that the manuscript has been transcribed from Arabic and translated into Italian, English and French. Using computer graphics, Leonardo3 was able to reconstructed all of the devices in 3D, enabling the reader to see and interact with these incredible machines in ways impossible until now. Go here for a video of the content of CD-ROM and see the visualization of the models in action.

There are many other examples of ancient technologies still existant. Over the course of the year we are going to look at other examples (Antikythera mechanismorreriesearth quake detectors, etc…) from Greece, China, and other civilizations. Let us know if there are any specific ones you would like us to cover. We’ll be happy to check them out.

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