THIS WILD ABYSS: The Story of the Men Who Made Modern Astronomy by Gale E. Christianson

THIS WILD ABYSS: The Story of the Men Who Made Modern Astronomy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Here are the early men who confined the heavens--Pythagoras, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton. But this is not just a series of astronomer profiles--their peccadilloes and strengths. Rather, it makes an immense chronological sweep--from Paleolithic man to the elaborate 1727 Westminster burial of Isaac Newton--of the forces and tensions that culminated in today's galactic understanding. With the historical breadth of a Bronowski, Christianson traces--one age standing on another--the personalities (kings, generals, aristocrats, thinkers) and cultural, intellectual, and scientific developments. There are the absurd and enlightened cosmic theories coursing through the ages, including Ptolemy's ""epicycle on an epicycle on an eccentric,"" as well as the flawed egos and intellectual leaps of men caught between conflicting ages. The author, an Indiana State University historian, points up the early experiences (occasionally juicy) that forged later talents. More important, he cuts his way through mountainous research to illuminate, for instance, the development of religious thought that shadowed the maturation of scientific thought (the Hellenic deities behind each space body, Christ's birth as a central event in space reckoning, Galileo's intellectual exile during the Inquisition) and, always, puts the question: how can the science of space and infinity do without concomitant religion? For the astronomical history student, or, more specifically, the student of the history of thought, who is willing to wade through the flatulent prose (""Now that we have a basic grasp of. . . we must inquire as to. . . a question that will merit. . . attention later in this chapter""), it offers useful service as a study tool and guide.

Pub Date: Feb. 1st, 1977
Publisher: Macmillan