Decoding the Heavens

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Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-old Computer and the Century Long Search to Discover Its Secrets
Author Jo Marchant
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher William Heinemann Ltd.
Publication date
November 2008
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 336 pp
ISBN 0-434-01835-X
OCLC 230989682

Decoding the Heavens: A 2,000-Year-old Computer and the Century Long Search to Discover Its Secrets by Jo Marchant is an exploration of the history and significance of the Antikythera Mechanism (/ˌæntɪkɪˈθɪərə/ AN-ti-ki-THEER), an ancient mechanical calculator (also described as the first known mechanical computer[1][2]) designed to calculate astronomical positions. Technological artifacts of similar complexity did not reappear until a thousand years later.

Marchant approaches the mystery of the mechanism in a narrative that begins with the discovery of the Antikythera wreck in 1901 and includes a primer on the development of scuba gear in the 19th century. Throughout the book, Marchant weaves ancient history with the lives and travails of the handful of contemporary scientists who bucked conventional wisdom with their belief that the mechanism embodied technological and mathematical expertise thought to be impossible for its time. It is believed to have been built about 150–100 BC and yet the delicate bronze clockwork it embodies would not be known to Europe until the Middle Ages.

The author acknowledges (p. 302) that none of the principal researchers [3] from the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project were involved "in any way" with the writing of the book. The project has published a commentary [4] that sets out problems with the book's account of their work.

The book's account of the collaboration between Michael Wright and Allan Bromley is disputed.[5]


The book was first published in November 2008 in hardback by William Heinemann Ltd. (ISBN 0-434-01835-X). It was republished by Da Capo Press in hardback in 2009 (ISBN 978-0-306-81742-7), and in paperback in 2010 (ISBN 978-0-306-81861-5).



  1. ^ "The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project", The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Retrieved 2009-05-29
  2. ^ Washington Post Quote: Imagine tossing a top-notch laptop into the sea, leaving scientists from a foreign culture to scratch their heads over its corroded remains centuries later. A Roman shipmaster inadvertently did something just like it 2,000 years ago off southern Greece, experts said late Thursday.
  3. ^ "The academic team" The Antikythera Mechanism Research Project. Retrieved 2009-06-07
  4. ^ "Notes and Comments on Decoding the Heavens"
  5. ^ "Decoding the Heavens: Mistakes and Misinterpretations"