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Lost Discoveries

The Ancient Roots of Modern Science from the Babylonians to the Mayans
Narrated by: Peter Johnson
Length: 14 hrs and 37 mins
Categories: History, Ancient
3.5 out of 5 stars (294 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

In the tradition of Daniel Boorstin, the co-founder of Omni delivers an original work of history that demonstrates why modern science rests on a foundation built by ancient and medieval non-European societies.

Lost Discoveries explores the mostly unheralded scientific breakthroughs from the ancient world - Babylonians, Egyptians, Indians, Africans, New World, and Oceanic tribes, among others, and from the non-European medieval world. By example, the Egyptians developed the concept of the lowest common denominator and the Indians developed the use of zero and negative numbers. The Chinese observed, reported, and dated eclipses between 1400 and 1200 B.C. The Chinese also set the stage for later Hindu scholars, who refined the concept of particles and the void. Five thousand years ago, Sumerians were able to assert that the earth was circular. Islamic scientists fixed problems in Ptolemy's geocentric cosmology. The Quechuan Indians of Peru were the first to vulcanize rubber.

This first comprehensive, authoritative, popularly written, multicultural history of science fills in a crucial gap in the history of science.

Lost Discoveries is also available in print from Simon and Schuster.

©2002 by Dick Teresi
(P)2002 Random House, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"If you think that modern science is rooted in the golden age of Greece, you owe it to yourself to [hear this] book." (Library Journal)
"A reliable and fascinating guide to the unexplored field of multicultural science." (

What members say

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Kevin
  • LaGrange, IL, USA
  • 01-29-05

A worthwhile challenge

This is definately one of the more challenging audio books I've encountered and probably not meant for someone with simply a passing interest in the history of math and science. It took me months to finish, if only because I found myself going back and listening again to parts that required tremendous concentration. This is one of those selections that I really enjoyed, but probably should have opted for the text so that I could underline!

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Carl
  • Oregon City, OR, USA
  • 02-27-03

Not for the faint of heart

This book is not for those who merely have a general interest in science and/or archaeology. The author gets extremely technical at times. I have two Master's degrees and at a couple of points he totally lost me. The author is repetative and loves to belabor the obvious. The book reads like a textbook but some of the conclusions are so far outside academic norms they stretch credulity. I wish I hadn't made the choice

40 of 44 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Brian
  • Camp Morton, MB, Canada
  • 01-20-03

A little long winded and repetitive

This work's subject is greatly interesting to me but it's treatment in this book leaves something to be desired.

While the information compiled in this tome is interesting and while the information may not always be new to me the conclusions are sometimes thought provoking and enlightening.

The major drawback of the work is that the author tends to repeat information continually. It is supposed that this may add functionallity to this book if used as a reference book, but greatly takes away from from the stand point of a novel or straight-forward read.

Distilled, the new and interesing information could have been contained within 1/4 of the space this book has taken. And therefore makes it a labour to read (ok listen to).

The narration though as usuall is great.

35 of 40 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Crai
  • Cincinnati, OH, USA
  • 05-27-03

more political than scientific

This book has a very interesting premise, but does not develop it well at all. It is full of broad assertions with little concrete evidence to back them. If the author spent as much time supporting his assertions with evidence as he did repeating them this would be a great book. As it is, the author seems to want to shame and reform the modern western memory with only the strength of his own scorn. The most redeeming quality of the book is the bits of historical information about the history of science peppered though the book. If you are an advocate of or have an interest in non-western societies and their contribution to the world, you may enjoy learning about these isolated bits of scientific history. If you are looking for a rigorous history of early science, you may be disappointed.

14 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Unnecessary atonement botched

The apparent premise of this book, judging from the title and publishers blurb, is that non-European cultures discovered much of the underpinnings of modern science and technology and haven't gotten due credit for it. Mr. Teresi makes a valiant effort to unearth those advances and give due credit. Ultimately though, Mr. Terisi's efforts fall well short of the stated intent. Most of the examples given are based on tenuous parallels with modern scientific theories, theories that may or may not stand the test of time. The book is evidently based on very thorough research and is chock full of references to ancient oriental, pre-Columbian, Egyptian, Indian and middle eastern sources. I came away from the book with the understanding that, aside from Indian mathematics, non-European cultures have contributed very little to modern science and technology. The authors attempts to draw similarities between scientific theories and ancient texts are coincidental at best and spurious and worst. In the last century, Mr. Terisi was involved in debunking claims of an advanced civilization in ancient Africa. This book is an apparent mea-culpa for that transgression of his pan-cultural sensibilities. His romantic sincerity shines through, victimizing intellectual rigor and the whole point of the book.

11 of 13 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • David
  • Clyde, NC, USA
  • 11-26-04

Great work and presentation

This is a great book and will be rewardimg for the readers of the more scientific and mathmatical literature. If you like the works of Hawking,Einstein,and their peers, as well as the genera of articulate historical, geographical, and cosmological writings...this book is for you. If you are well read in science, math and history...Get This Book!

12 of 16 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Omar
  • Port Washington, NY, USA
  • 08-09-03

Views the past through a contemporary lens

Don't bother with this book. All you will get from it are childish interpretations of old ideas. Just because an idea from a faraway era resembles some modern empirically established fact does not mean that that ancient idea has any connection at all to the currently accepted fact. All this book does is try to patronize minorities after ripping them off (it is quite overpriced for the kind of book it is).
Yes, I believe that non european peoples may have had sophisticated intellectual traditions at times in their history, however, this book is not the way to learn about them.
It is a misleading book that you will be better off not reading.

10 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Highly informative!

If you are looking for a no-nonsense guide to non-Western science history, look no further. Lost Discoveries was slightly more entertaining than a textbook, so I wouldn't recommend it for the timid or casual reader. But in it you will find a wealth of fascinating stories and well-researched, colorful details. A staple for anyone with a passion for science history, I absolutely loved it!

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Excellent reading for a history buff

The book is well researched, meticulous, pays attention to details, perhaps a bit too much in some parts. But it gives a broad and comprehensive review of history of ideas which led to discovery of reason and birth of science. It is not an easy reading for a sleepy traveler. But for a prepared mind it opens the history of human thought unbiased by both proponents and opponents of world domination by a single cultural tradition. Human mind has been forged by multitude of cultures and civilizations - this book tells loud and clear.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Anne
  • Evans, GA, USA
  • 02-08-04


As a scientist, I am pleased to recommend this book. The science is fascinating and presented in a very clear manner. The long view of how the discoveries intersect and build on each other is very interesting. The reader is talented and keeps ones interest. The recording is very good.

5 of 8 people found this review helpful