David E. Pilgrim (1933-2005) was an eminent classicist, linguist and historian of Ancient Science, member of the History of Mathematics Department at Brown University. The autor, Philip J. Davis, met him there and both quickly established a solid friendship and an intellectual interchange. “Ancient loons” is dedicated to the memory of David Pilgrim and its goal is to preserve some of his thoughts and specialized knowledge, as well as to remark the importance of curiosity in the study of History.
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. These small tales were called “oddballs” or “Loons” by Pilgrim and constitute the core of the book.
John Napier, Heliogabalus, Priscillian, Siva and Parvati, St. Cuthbert and many others form these “Ancient Loons”, which are usually 5 or 6 pages long, so the approach to each character is just anecdotical. Besides, the Loons jump back and forward in time, so no particular connection is made between them, apart from their excentricity or the originality of their beliefs in their particular era. However, the book shows the fascination for Ancient History, the treasures hidden in original sources and the importance of exploring unusual connections. Although some mathematicians (as Napier) and mathematical thoughts (the relationship between Theology and Mathematics) appear in the text, the level is elementary as the book was written for a general audience.