Looking at the title one could be forgiven for thinking: Not very interesting, surely? After all nobody believes in it now. People in olden times used to think the world was flat, indeed the Church taught that, but Columbus proved the world was round, and with the development of modern scientific knowledge nobody can possibly hold to such an idea.
If you think that you would be wrong on all counts. This book not only shows this, it offers insights and understanding to anyone interested in the relationship between science and religion and how what we "know" can be shaped by personal factors we are unaware of.
As Garwood explains, the Ancients knew the world was round, and the Christian Church had no problem with the idea. Some figures in the early Church rejected the idea, apparently because it was part of the "pagan knowledge" they were turning their back on, but they were a minority. The idea that "the Church taught the Earth was flat" was promoted later by anti-religious writers pursuing their own agenda.
Similarly, those who opposed Columbus's proposed trip knew perfectly well the Earth was round; they were against it for sound reasons. In fact their ideas were closer to the truth than Columbus's, but he was very lucky. Again, the facts were misrepresented to suit later writers' agenda (putting down the Catholic Church and building up Columbus as a prototype for American "rugged individualism").
Flat-Earthism as a vocal pseudo-scientific movement actually arose in Nineteenth-Century England, whence it spread to the USA. It was established by fundamentalist Christians who were reacting to the advance of scientific knowledge, which they saw as a godless force or conspiracy aimed at destroying the Christian faith. In response they constructed a "Christian" model of the Universe based on scattered verses from the Bible.
Although its heyday was more than a century ago, Flat-Earthism still persists in that milieu inhabited by anti-scientists, conspiracy theorists, and fundamentalist "young Earth" Creationists. Such people tend to see themselves as blessed with a special insight and battling heroically against Godless or conspiratorial forces. Their reaction to the threatening modern unsettled and unsettling world is to build themselves a mental fort and inhabit it secure in their own beliefs and their willingness to face the enemies all around. They have retreated to "the old certainties" as a reaction to change in the world around them.Perhaps it is understandable if they see science and religion as fundamentally opposing forces rather than paths to understanding that deal with different aspects of human life.
This is a fascinating well-researched book. The author is never patronising or contemptuous of the Flat-Earthers, who are shown as real, sincere, people, while the issues are presented fairly and thoroughly (eprhaps a little too thoroughly in places, some skipping will aid the reading of certain passeages). I enjoyed it and recommend it.