|Gillian Bradshaw's The Sand-Reckoner|
|Reviewed by Irene Hahn|
Hardcover - 352 pages 1st edition (April 2000)
ANOTHER WELL DONE historical novel by this dependable author.
Take a box of tissues along: it's a real tear-jerker!
This well researched book is about the young Archimedes and the first siege of Syracuse at 264 B.C., during the first Punic War. Faced with the terminal illness of his astronomer father and the need to provide for the family, Archimedes has to make the choice between his loyalty to his city, Syracuse, and his beloved Alexandria, between the drudge of engineering and the lofty air of mathematics and exploration of the universe.
What follows is the fascinating story of King Hieron wooing Archimedes, and the siege of the city by the Romans. You will admire the mathematical genius at work creating the best catapults ever, and see the famous ship moved.
Woven into this is a love story and the life of a Roman slave.
Ms. Bradshaw creates a living, breathing city -- astonishingly believable, quite a feat considering the fact that our knowledge of those times is rather limited. Family life at a middle class astronomer/math teacher's house and at the royal villa is juxtaposed, with an Archimedes who lives in his own world, oblivious to conventions.
To tell more of the story itself would spoil the suspense for the reader.
The book title "Sand-Reckoner" comes from the same-titled monograph by Archimedes. In the story, he carries around with him a box full of sand, which he uses as his abacus. Considering the complexities of Archimedes' work, Ms. Bradshaw has done an impressive job making all this as understandable as possible.
Another aspect that plays -- forgive the pun -- a big role in the story is music. Archimedes was a flute player, and it is fascinating indeed to learn about ancient instruments and music making. As a bonus, we are introduced to the water-aulus (organ) invented by Ktesibios of Alexandria, which gave its name to the field of hydraulics.
I could not put the book down and have to confess that I read it through the night, a thing that I hardly am able to do any more these days. I hope Ms. Bradshaw has many more stories to tell!
This book is lovingly put together by the publisher. One hopes that the trade paperback edition has the same design.
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