Ancient books (or I'd rather be reading)

By Grant Jacobs 19/03/2011

I’d rather be reading, so in a round-about sort of way I’m offering you some ancient reading so that I might excuse myself to do my own (more modern) reading.

Brunschwig's Liber de Arte Distillande
From Brunschwig’s Liber de Arte Distillande

Since I wrote Explore ancient science books on-line last year, the American National Library of Medicine have added to their interactive digital collection, Turn the Page. The top of the list of new entries is what they say is the oldest surviving surgical ‘text’, a papyrus scroll from 1700 BCE. It will take a while to load, so be patient. Once loaded you can scroll out the text. Click on the ‘text’ icon below the scroll and you can explore translations of the contents, like this passage dealing with broken ribs:

If you treat a man for a break in the ribs of his chest and the fracture has a wound on it, and you find the ribs of his chest wiggling under your fingers, then you say about him: ’One who has a break in the ribs of the chest and a fracture with a wound on it: an ailment for which nothing is done.’ (My emphasis added.)

Oh dear. The poor patient would surely a bit miffed.

There’s also al-Qazwini’s Wonders of Creation among other additions.

Backstage Science are currently presenting an on-going collection of videos taking a peek behind the scenes at science institutions in England. One of their growing collections presents books held at the Royal Observatory, Edinburgh, along with Isaac Newton’s death mask.

The author’s names on those books are enough to make you reach for Discover Magazine’s list of 25 greatest science books of all time to compare notes. (I don’t agree with their list. One problem I find with reader-polled lists is that they tend to include recent popular books along with works that have stood the test of time. But you can make your own mind up.)

I’m off to read…

If you’re lacking a book yourself, you could always dive into Project Gutenberg and find something. There must be something in the 33,000-odd they have that appeals… (You can browse their science bookshelves, if that’s your inclination. Or their extensive science fiction collection. Or…

Other articles on Code for Life:

Explore ancient science books on-line

Royal science

What is your relationship with your research notebook?

Neti pots now validated as sound science?

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

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