Review: The Map of Knowledge by Violet Moller #NonfictionNovember

Posted November 28, 2022 by Stephanie in 4 Stars, History, Nonfiction, nonfiction november, Review / 6 Comments

Title: The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities
Author: Violet Moller
Publication: March 19, 2020 by Pan Macmillan
Genre: Nonfiction, History
Find it on: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | Google Play | Kobo
Rating: 4/5★

In The Map of Knowledge Violet Moller traces the journey taken by the ideas of three of the greatest scientists of antiquity – Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy – through seven cities and over a thousand years. In it, we follow them from sixth-century Alexandria to ninth-century Baghdad, from Muslim Cordoba to Catholic Toledo, from Salerno’s medieval medical school to Palermo, capital of Sicily’s vibrant mix of cultures and – finally – to Venice, where that great merchant city’s printing presses would enable Euclid’s geometry, Ptolemy’s system of the stars and Galen’s vast body of writings on medicine to spread even more widely.

In tracing these fragile strands of knowledge from century to century, from east to west and north to south, Moller also reveals the web of connections between the Islamic world and Christendom, connections that would both preserve and transform astronomy, mathematics and medicine from the early Middle Ages to the Renaissance.

Vividly told and with a dazzling cast of characters, The Map of Knowledge is an evocative, nuanced and vibrant account of our common intellectual heritage.

The Middle Ages often get referred to as the Dark Ages because of the intellectual and culture decline during this period in history. What happened to all the knowledge of ancient philosophers and mathematicians? And how did we gain back this knowledge in the Renaissance? Historian Violet Moller has some fascinating answers to these questions and then some!

The Map of Knowledge tells the history of seven cities and how the ideas of scientist from ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome (Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy) got used and preserved by the Islamic world. The cities spotlighted in this book were : Alexandria (Egypt), Baghdad (Iraq), Cordoba (Spain), Toledo (Spain), Salerno (Italy), Palermo (Italy) and Venice (Italy). I enjoyed reading about them all but I especially loved reading and learning more about Baghdad.

The book also goes into the importance of the Muslim and Jewish scientists of the middle ages and how without them we wouldn’t nearly have all the knowledge preserved from antiquity that we do know. These scholars from the east don’t get the exposure that they deserve compared to the west so I’m glad the author got to shine a light upon them with this book of hers.

There were also very nice drawings and beautiful photographs, especially from old manuscripts which are just gorgeous, included that just added more to the book in general and I loved that.


About the author:

Violet Moller is a historian and writer based near Oxford, England. She received a PhD in intellectual history from Edinburgh University, where she wrote her dissertation on the library of a sixteenth century scholar. She has written three pop reference books for the publishing arm of the Bodleian Library. The Map of Knowledge is her first narrative history.

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6 responses to “Review: The Map of Knowledge by Violet Moller #NonfictionNovember

  1. verushka

    I like that this acknowledges the diversity of scientists in that age and their contributions to what we know essentially.

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