The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities by Violet Moller
Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities” as Want to Read:
The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  702 ratings  ·  127 reviews

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, cap

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Published February 21st 2019 by Picador
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Map of Knowledge, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Map of Knowledge

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.87  · 
Rating details
 ·  702 ratings  ·  127 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Map of Knowledge: How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found: A History in Seven Cities
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There was a program on PBS when I was in middle or high school that was, I think, produced in the most really good science programs. The program was called Connections and it would take a subject and connect all the historical dots as to how it came about and sometimes the connections between historical figures, objects, cities, places, concepts and moments would be really obscure. Who knew, for example, that there was a connection between the modern concept of credit and Napoleon's pr ...more
Amy Clarke
Mar 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an interesting discussion of how classical ideas made their way through history. It follows the writings of three Ancient Greek scientists (Ptolemy, Euclid and Galen) from their inception in Antiquity to their dissemination through the printing press in the 15th Century, via seven selected cities. As a result this book is a fusion of pure history and a history of ideas. Moller discusses both the fortunes of the seven cities she has chosen - for example the rise of Palermo under the ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, religion
I was very disappointed in this as I was expecting a lot more and for it to be a lot more interesting. Instead, it reads like a Wikipedia page. The author bends over backwards to point out that the Muslim world was keeping the light on in the sciences during Christian Europe’s Dark Ages.

First of all, I was fully aware of the contribution to scholarship in the Arab world during the centuries of their short-lived dominance. I studied Arabic and the Muslim world for many years. Her exuberance to in
Oct 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-btr
Great book to read. Easy to follow and keeps things interesting jumping from city to city among centuries to follow the birth of the printed knowledge. It has a lot of references to classic works of literature and to the culture where they developed. Read if you are into classical history.
Fraser Kinnear
Moller traces the history of Galen, Euclid, and Ptolemy as their ideas are first written down, then fostered in the Middle East, and re-introduced to Midevil Europe at the start of the Renissance.

Limiting the scope of Classical transmission to these men and not including, say, Aristotle, seems a bit odd (interesting trivia: Aristotle was the first person known to have a private collection of books). But I'm actually more disappointed in Moller's focus on telling the story of the transcription ef
May 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A very interesting book that answered a question that I now wonder why I never thought to ask it - what happened to all the science and philosophy of the ancient world during the thousand years of the Dark Ages, when in most of Europe, Christianity was more keen on banning and burning such "pagan thoughts"? How come so many of them were still available and alive in some form or other when the Renaissance came about?
This book provides the answer in form of a journey, telling us the stories of ind
Thomas W
Apr 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Most students in the USA have had only a Euro-centric perspective of history provided to them exclusively with a Christian + White view, leaving out massive accomplishments of non-Christian cultures. For instance, the Dark Ages happened largely just in Europe--but not necessarily in eastern regions where learning and culture flourished, and Muslim & Jewish scientists and scholars produced great work. Substantial piece of scholarship. ...more
May 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In The Map of Knowledge, Violet Moller traces the transmission of knowledge from the ancient Mediterranean, via the Abbasid and Umayyad caliphates and centuries of scholars and translators, from 500 CE to the European Renaissance. This summary might sound a little dry, but Moller’s semi-conversational style and the content made her overview of a thousand years of history highly readable. Outside of academia, I don’t know that many people know how much of a debt we Westerners owe to the ancient w ...more
Aug 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
You might like this audiobook, like I did, if you like to learn about the start of religious thoughts, science, medicine and books.
Feb 01, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enlightening survey of math, science, and medicine from late classical times to the beginning of the Renaissance. Moller focuses on Euclid’s “The Elements”, Ptolemy’s “Almagest”, and the works of Galen, showing how knowledge was preserved and transmitted in the centuries before the printing press. She demonstrates how effective Muslim rulers and scholars were at preserving the writings of Ancient Greece at a time when Europe was descending into the Dark Ages and how Western humanist scholars gra ...more
Callie Stockman
Sep 01, 2019 marked it as dnf
DNF but not because it wasn't informative and well-written. I had this as a two week book from my library and I had to turn it back in when I was only a little less than halfway done. I requested it again, thinking I could easily pick up where I left off.
After almost two months, I have completely lost the thread of what I was learning. I don't have the time or energy or frankly I guess the interest to start the book over. I would definitely consider trying it again in a few years.
Sep 22, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019-books
Dense and well-researched, yet fascinating and accessible.
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is a very cool and interesting trek through the pages of history.
This book has such a great structure and I appreciate how Moller went about this history of the transmission of ideas during the European dark ages. Moller looks at three classical science authors and their most known works -- Euclid (The Elements - geometry), Ptolemy (The Almagest - astronomy) and Galen (a bazillion medical books) -- and tracks them during the 1000 or so years from when they were written (before 500 CE) to the time they were more or less permanently conserved by the invention o ...more
Cheryl Lassiter
Sep 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Just started in. Second sentence contains a glaring mistake, “Michelangelo, lay on his back on a huge scaffold, hundreds of feet in the air...”

How can that be, when the max height of the Sistine Chapel ceiling is only 68 feet?

I am of no particular religious faith, but as I continue, I begin to detect the anti-Christian bias so typical of today’s Western historical writers. In her preface, Moller sets forth the idea that with the spread of Christianity came the inevitable anti-intellectual book b
Apr 12, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
People think of the time between the Roman empire and the Renaissance as the "dark ages," with minimal scientific expansion, and with a lot of knowledge being "lost" before it was rediscovered. This book works against that pervasive myth, tracing several texts through seven cities to see how they were preserved before the printing press.

This book is incredibly well researched, and written in an engaging and witty way. I was not only interested by the topic, but hooked by the narrative put forth
Dec 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A great read covering a large amount of information in an accessible manner. There are many books out there that will cover individual sections of Moller's work in more depth, but for such breadth, she really nails it. The framing device of the three texts (Euclid's Elements, Ptolemy's Almagest, and Galen's medical oeuvre) was almost not necessary for me as I was loving moving about the world following the development, preservation and creation of new knowledge. She moves from Alexandria to Bagh ...more
Peter A
Dec 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This is a nicely written history that looks at the time between years 500 and 1500, addressing how foundational scientific ideas from the Greeks were sustained and transmitted through time until the European Renaissance.

To communicate her story the author focuses on three works of science: the Elements on mathematics by Euclid, the Almagest on astronomy by Ptolemy, and several writings on medicine by Galen. The story also moves around the Mediterranean, starting in Alexandria, with its library
Amy Raeburn
Oct 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
Whilst we battle with our buffering browsers in the age of instant transference and consumption of knowledge, Moller in her book The Map of Knowledge portrays a remarkably contrasting image through the arduous undertaking of ancient scholars and transcribers in their pursuit to preserve and pass on classical ideas. Moller produces a thoughtful and expressive account, tracking the ideas of Euclid, Galen and Ptolemy over a thousand years, through the European ‘Dark Ages’ and seeing their arrival i ...more
Oct 26, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Even if this book's target readership was intended for a general audience without a history degree (which I actually have), it still very much "dumbs down" the material. The book is heavily padded with unnecessary adverbs and repetitive platitudes, so that you don't actually learn much after half an hour of reading. I felt as if the author was not a PhD holder, but a first-year undergraduate student struggling to fill up a 20-page essay due the next morning. Take this paragraph for example, from ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a very informative account of how knowledge spread from the year 500 to the present. It particularly traces the medical works of Galen, Euclid's Elements and Ptolemy's Almagest. In the year 500, as the Roman empire fell, knowledge and the written word moved to the East, to Alexandria and Baghdad where there were 36 libraries in 1258. The first paper mill started in the 700s in the are of Baghdad. The Abbasid family ruled Baghdad in the 11th century but warfare destroyed the city and the ...more
Mighty Sea
Apr 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
I very much enjoyed this history of the transmission of ideas. Violet Moller tracks the knowledge and trafficking of three key ancient books (from Euclid, Ptolomy & Galen) from the fall of Library of Alexandria to Venice in 15th Century (where the combination of the printing press and the Renaissance secured their continued circulation). Her book has lots of notes, shows signs of heavy research, and best of all - remains very readable. Recommended!

But it's not perfect. Prof. Moller says her map
May 27, 2020 rated it really liked it
What an interesting premise to tell a history. It basically follows the path taken by three classic scientific texts-- Euclid's The Elements (math), Ptolemy's Almagest (astronomy) and Galen's writings on medicine -- from their beginnings to 1500. In the process we travel from Alexandria, to Baghdad, to Cordoba and Toledo, and finally to Italy (Salerno, Palermo, and Venice). We learn about the value of knowledge in different cultures at different time periods, meet many interesting personalities ...more
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Violet Moller does a fine job of tracing the route taken by three specific works of science which made the fraught passage between antiquity and modernity. The three writings are Ptolemy's Almagest, Euclid's Elements, and the extensive corpus of Galen's medical writings.
She accomplishes this feat of literary detection by tracing journey the three took from city to city and library to library through the long, dark centuries when first Europe, in the aftermath of Rome's collapse, and then, event
Joan Barden
Jul 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
An excellent, very readable history of how the knowledge in books came down to us from Greek scholars through the Middle Ages. The author traces three foundational science books - Euclid's Elements a treatise on Mathematics; Ptolemy's Almagest, on astronomy; and Galen's writings on medicine - as they were moved from city to city by readers and copyists. Starting as scrolls and moving to early books of hides all the way to the printing presses of the 1500's these and a few other books and treatis ...more
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As a classics/archaeology undergrad and a library of science master’s student, this book was pretty much made for me. It was incredibly interesting to learn about ancient/historic library systems and how scientific literature created in Ancient Greece by Euclid, Galen, and Ptolemy has survived (mostly) the test of time. And it provided fascinating information about surrounding history and about science that I greatly enjoyed. Something I found really informative was how crucial Arabic scholars a ...more
Apr 30, 2020 marked it as dnf  ·  review of another edition
This was different than I expected. The author traces (quite painstakingly!) the ways in which knowledge made its way through history, and the many people to whom we owe a great debt for translating and transcribing seminal texts. I thought this would be right up my alley - seeing how people were influenced by and influenced the study of mathematics, astronomy and medicine.

But the book is mainly about the physical translations - there is very little about what is INSIDE the books and how they i
A really interesting book which maps out how knowledge on astronomy, mathematics and medicine developed by Ancient Greek scholars has survived millennia to finally be picked up again in Western Europe at the time of the renaissance. Moller outlines the important role of Arab scholars in preserving and building on the knowledge of the Ancient Greeks, at a time when Europe was a scientific backwater. I thought the structure of the book was brilliant: the chapters each focus on a city that has acte ...more
Ashutosh Mehndiratta
Sep 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
The Map of Knowledge is a meticulously researched, riveting read. I did not feel bored at any page and rather enjoyed the narrative at each step. The idea of focusing on 3 ancient texts and tracing them through seven cities - Alexandria, Baghdad, Toledo, Cordoba, Palermo, Salermo, Venice, was intelligent and gave a good structure to the book.

The only quibble I have is that the title 'Map of Knowledge' can be misleading as the cities covered in the book aren't the comprehensive geography where kn
David Dunlap
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The author dwells on astronomy, mathematics, and medicine as she traces the survival of ancient wisdom during the so-called Dark Ages. The focus is on seven cities, each in turn a center for learning: Alexandria, Baghdad, Córdoba, Toledo, Salerno, Palermo, and Venice. Scholars traveled from one to another with surprising fluidity, looking for manuscripts to study and translate. The major takeaway (for *this* reader, at least) was the prominence of scholars and leaders from the Arabic world -- th ...more
« previous 1 3 4 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Europeans: Three Lives and the Making of a Cosmopolitan Culture
  • The Year 1000: When Explorers Connected the World—and Globalization Began
  • The Liberation of Paris: How Eisenhower, de Gaulle, and von Choltitz Saved the City of Light
  • Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death
  • The Lost Gutenberg
  • Accursed Tower: The Fall of Acre and the End of the Crusades
  • The Habsburgs: To Rule the World
  • 1066: The Year That Changed Everything
  • Archaeology from Space: How the Future Shapes Our Past
  • Alaric the Goth: An Outsider's History of the Fall of Rome
  • The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books
  • The Nature of Nature: Why We Need the Wild
  • Einstein's War: How Relativity Triumphed Amid the Vicious Nationalism of World War I
  • Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know
  • Crusaders: The Epic History of the Wars for the Holy Lands
  • How To: Absurd Scientific Advice for Common Real-World Problems
  • Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World
  • Cities: The First 6,000 Years
See similar books…

News & Interviews

Are you spending this season bundling up against the chill or enjoying summery southern hemisphere vibes (in which case we are...
77 likes · 28 comments
“a mediados del siglo VII ocurrió algo que transformaría el curso de la historia. En una cueva situada en lo alto de la ciudad de La Meca, el arcángel Gabriel se apareció a un mercader de unos cuarenta años llamado Muhammad (Mahoma) y le hizo una serie de revelaciones que posteriormente quedarían fijadas por escrito en el Corán. Había nacido la religión del islam.” 0 likes
“Para los epicúreos, «el fin supremo de la vida humana es la potenciación del placer y la reducción del dolor», concepto que contradice directamente el mensaje cristiano según el cual los sufrimientos de este mundo le permiten a uno gozar de la felicidad en el otro.” 0 likes
More quotes…