Usually travel stories are centered around a person doing the traveling, but this time around the actual travel is rather performed by ideas. The Map of Knowledge by Violet Moller is not a travel book in the traditional sense, but the story on how learnings were passed down through the centuries.

After the decline of the western Roman Empire, most of western Europe was in fragments. Important manuscripts and non-religious texts were destroyed in the wake of Christianity, but due to dedicated scholars and sometimes pure chance, some of the manuscripts survived the chaos. The Map of Knowledge selects three specific texts and follows them across the world.

These important works by Euclid, Ptolemy and Galen happened to be translated into Greek before ending up in Baghdad. Translated copies of these texts find their way to Spain, where Cordoba and Toledo are rare outposts of knowledge in a dark world.

Next up is Sicily, where the texts pass through cities such as Palermo and Syracuse. The last part takes place in Venice where the books finally get printed for the first time, making them survive into the Renaissance era.

This is a tale of unsung heroes and forgotten intellectuals. Their names are often unknown to the general public, but their deeds will live on in the ideas they nursed and protected. Thanks to these efforts, we can study millennia-old books even though no known original versions exist today.

Trinity College, Dublin The impressive Long Room library at Trinity College, Dublin.

However, just as The Martian by Andy Weir is a thinly veiled science handbook disguised as an adventure tale, The Map of Knowledge reads like a chronological history book where humans just act as vehicles. It can be a bit dry and tedious at times, but I still think it gives a good overview if you would like read up on some historic context before your trip to any of these cities.


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