John Farrell: The Clock and the Camshaft

Clock & Camshaft

Clock & Camshaft


John W. Farrell
Prometheus Books, May 29, 2020, $19.00; Kindle, $10.49
ISBN-10: 1633885720; ISBN-13: 978-1633885721

Farrell reports:

The Clock and the Camshaft is a popular history of medieval inventions, from the vertical watermill to the weight-driven clock, from the invention of paper to the development of the codex and the book, from the nautical compass to the first eye-glasses.

Most of these inventions, emerging between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, had a huge impact on the lives of ordinary people, especially those in the fledgling nations of Medieval Europe who had struggled for centuries to survive after the collapse of the Roman Empire.

John Farrell

John Farrell

I initially researched the idea for a book on the more narrow topic of the history of science in the Middle Ages. As I worked on it and got feedback from publishers who turned it down, I broadened the topic to the history of technical inventions of the era. The importance of the translation movements and the rise of the universities, as I discuss in the finished book, were key developments for the later Renaissance as well as the Scientific Revolution which occurred in the seventeenth century. The translation movements crucially re-introduced the key works of philosophy, science and medicine of the classical tradition of ancient Greece and Rome that had been lost to the West after the fall of the Roman empire.

This is my second book, so from the start I put my proposal together with the help of my agent and an independent editor who read and suggested revisions. We submitted to several publishers over the course of a few years (more than I’d like to admit!). It was a frustrating process, with some publishers taking months to make up their minds before they passed. We finally landed the book with an editor at Globe Pequot/Prometheus who was very enthusiastic.

I highly recommend that aspiring authors hire a professional editor to work with them on their book proposals. Above all, I encourage every writer to be persistent. Don’t be afraid to submit your work to editors who will be honest about its potential, and keep submitting it until it finds a home.

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Jun. 24, 2020

Advance Copy

For this column, NASW book editor Lynne Lamberg asks NASW authors to tell how they came up with the idea for their book, developed a proposal, found an agent and publisher, funded and conducted research, and put the book together. She also asks what they wish they had known before they began working on their book, what they might do differently the next time, and what tips they can offer aspiring authors. She then edits the A part of that Q&A to produce the author reports you see here.

Publication of NASW members' reports in Advance Copy does not constitute NASW's endorsement of their books. NASW welcomes your comments and hopes this column stimulates productive discussions.

Leon Levy Center for Biography fellows

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