"Ah, I’m Pingree. We meet again. Splendid. Won’t you sit down?"
I looked around David’s room. Short of the library stacks, I had never seen so many books piled into a single room. Where could I sit down? Every square inch of horizontal surface was covered. Books, papers, notes, manuscripts—all congregated in random and chaotic disorder.
This small encounter and the snapshot of the protagonist on the cover of this book introduce the reader to David E. Pingree, the eminent classicist, Orientalist, historian of ancient science, and member of the Department of the History of Mathematics at Brown University. This is a book of his stories, retold by Phil Davis, award-winning author and raconteur par excellence, who reconstructs them from letters and many conversations with his friend Pingree.
The stories trace connections between ancient characters, historical and mythical, and recreate a world in which the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake leads to unexpected pleasures and associations. They capture a world best described by Saul Lieberman’s quip about Gershom Scholem’s great work on the Kabala: "Trash is trash; but the study of trash is scholarship," and David Pingree’s imagined response, "Yes, but there’s always something of value to be learned."
The book is dedicated to preserving and promoting the specialized knowledge and thoughts of David Pingree, a truly remarkable person and to inspire readers to follow academic tradition and at the same time explore unusual connections.
Table of Contents
SETTING THE STAGE: THE ACADEMIC MILIEU: Wilbour Hall. Otto Neugebauer. Abraham J. Sachs. Gerald J. Toomer. Enter David Pingree, My Protagonist. THE LOONS AND HOW I GOT TO KNOW THEM: Simon Forman. Elias Ashmole. In Which I Meet Lord Dacre. Elias Ashmole. Thomas Allen. Siva and Parvati. Pythagoras. Priscillian. St. Christopher the Dog-Faced. St. Cuthbert. Vergilius Maro Grammaticus. Fredegund. The Fabricated Letters of Antony and Cleopatra. Elegabalus. A Few Thoughts on Mathematics and Theology. John Napier. Katharine Firth. Abu Ma'ashar and the Hurrians. Apollonius of Tyana. Charles-Benoit Hase. Abu Rayhan al-Biruni. Ringing Down the Curtain. Further Reading.
The book is a collection of short stories, small anecdotes in the life of some historical characters. More concretely, it focuses on the oddities and singularities of some well-known historical figures, not only in science, but also in arts, politics and social sciences. … the book shows the fascination for ancient history, the treasures hidden in original sources and the importance of exploring unusual connections.
—Javier Martinez, The European Mathematical Society, January 2013
… a rambling, illuminating and thoroughly enjoyable bio/autobiographical and historical sketch, setting Pingree’s immense erudition in its professional and intellectual context. Besides a string of amusing and intriguing anecdotes plentifully sprinkled with photos and sketches, this small volume supplies a valuable reminder of how complex, surprising and just plain strange the history of the exact sciences can be.
—Kim Plofker, MAA Reviews, October 2012