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Technology and Culture 41.3 (2000) 576-578

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Book Review

The Twenty-One Books of Engineering and Machines of Juanelo Turriano

The Twenty-One Books of Engineering and Machines of Juanelo Turriano. 5 vols. in Spanish, 2 vols. trans. Alexander Keller. Madrid: Doce Calles, 1998. Pp. 1,657; illustrations, indexes. $850.

Los Veintiún Libros de Ingenios y Máquinas de Juanelo Turriano, the most complete engineering treatise of sixteenth-century Spain, is here made available in five volumes. These constitute the first full-size facsimile edition of the abundantly illustrated 950-page codex kept at the National Library in Madrid, which is probably a seventeenth-century copy of the [End Page 576] original manuscript, drafted between 1585 and 1610. They are not only a handsome collector's item but also a useful reference on debatable interpretations of their modern transcriptions.

The other two volumes of the set are an enriched English version of an earlier two-volume transcription of the "libros." They include a careful English translation of the codex, a prologue by Pedro Laín Entralgo, a preface by the translator, Alexander Keller, a vivid and informative general introduction by José Antonio García-Diego, and scholarly introductions and footnotes to each of the books, plus indexes, tables of weights and measures, and bibliography. These volumes should satisfy the requirements of most students of Renaissance and early modern technology, despite unfortunate editorial flaws, among them an incomplete translation of the title page of the codex.

Taken as a whole, the seven-volume set can be viewed as an exhaustive critical edition of an encyclopedic work on Renaissance techniques related to water and its use as a source of industrial power. It also covers subjects such as baths, bridges, and harbors. Though the libros draw heavily on previous works by Vitruvius, Alberti, Agricola, and others, in the introductions to their English translation one occasionally reads such statements as these: "by far, the oldest detailed account of dam and weir construction in any literature" (p. 259), and "the best account of the construction and design of mills to have come down to us before the eighteenth century" (p. 315). It seems reasonable to assume that such statements are not exaggerations, given the painstaking research on the manuscripts by Ladislao Reti and then, as a labor of love, by José Antonio García-Diego and the specialists who worked for many years under his patronage at the Fundación Juanelo Turriano, which he created in 1987. The present edition of five hundred copies was intended as a fitting homage to the memory of García-Diego by his former collaborators.

According to the codex, "the Catholic King Philip II, King of the Spains and the New World" commanded Juanelo "to write and demonstrate" the Veintiún Libros. Consequently, for centuries these were assumed to be the work of Juanelo Turriano, the famous sixteenth-century Italian clockmaker and engineer in the service of Charles V and Philip II. But his renowned water-lifting machine, actually built in Toledo, is not referred to in the text, which frequently uses words in the dialect of Aragon, a region not familiar to Juanelo. As the result of the work by García-Diego and his collaborators, it is now accepted that the libros were written by an Aragonese engineer who compiled information on various hydraulic technologies relating to civil and industrial engineering. The identity of the author remains a matter of controversy to this day. Nevertheless, this work holds its place beside such well-known treatises as Biringuccio's De la Pyrotechnia (1540) and Agricola's De Re Metallica (1556). As García-Diego points out, it may be said to add the third of the four classic elements-- [End Page 577] fire, earth, water, and air--to the collection of great sourcebooks on Renaissance technology.

José Altshuler

Dr. Altshuler is president of the Cuban Society for the History of Science and Technology.



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