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The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions)

The History of Astronomy: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Kindle Edition]

Michael Hoskin
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Product Description


Packed with information as it is, Hoskin's short introduction makes an astonishingly good read. (Curtis Wilson, JHA)

Product Description

Astronomy, perhaps the first of the sciences, was already well developed by the time of Christ. Seventeen centuries later, after Newton showed that the movements of the planets could be explained in terms of gravitation, it became the paradigm for the mathematical sciences. In the nineteenth century the analysis of star-light allowed astrophysicists to determine both the chemical composition and the radial velocities of celestial bodies, while the development of photography
enabled distant objects invisible to the human eye, to be studied and measured in comfort. Technical developments during and since the Second World War have greatly enlarged the scope of the science by permitting the study of radiation.

This is a fascinating introduction to the history of Western astronomy, from prehistoric times to the origins of astrophysics in the mid-nineteenth century. Historical records are first found in Babylon and Egypt, and after two millennia the arithmetical astronomy of the Babylonians merged with the Greek geometrical approach to culminate in the Almagest of Ptolemy. This legacy was transmitted to the Latin West via Islam, and led to Copernicus's claim that the Earth is in motion. In justifying
this Kepler converted astronomy into a branch of dynamics, leading to Newton's universal law of gravity. The book concludes with eighteenth- and nineteenth-century applications of Newton's law, and the first explorations of the universe of stars.

ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 937 KB
  • Print Length: 136 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (8 May 2003)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000SI8QTG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #460,623 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

3.0 out of 5 stars
3.0 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good comprehensive book 21 Aug 2013
Format:Kindle Edition
I bought this book to give me a grounding in the subject in preparation for my UCAS application and it provides a brilliant detailed introduction (so not so short) in the subject and covering the evolution of our understanding of the solar system and the universe. In particular I found it interesting how much more work Kepler did towards this than the more famous Galileo. It's only shortcoming for me is that it stops when astrophysics emerges in the 19 century (I believe) and I would have like to have seen it go up to the present day.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing 24 Aug 2013
By Owl
This is not an introduction to The History of Astronomy, but just snippets that show the author's bias. So Arabic astronomy is not mentioned, whereas pages are devoted to tombs in Portugal that point roughly eastwards - very odd! Some descriptions are poor or skipped altogether. Personally, I found it quite a frustrating book to read.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A summary of Hoskin's other work 20 May 2014
In this work, Hoskin focus largely on a sequence of individuals, mostly from the latter parts of the Middle Ages through the Renaissance and on into the Scientific Revolution. Before that, though, there is an obligatory look at the early history of astronomy, not least looking at the work of Aristotle and Ptolemy, though even this preceded by "astronomy in prehistory".

In telling the story of astronomy in antiquity, our focus is largely on the planets, having been considered as stars that behaved in a peculiar way (hence the term 'planet' - meaning, wanderer). The puzzle, as seen from a modern perspective, is that of why the planets which are further out from the sun than earth appear to have retrograde motion. The history that then follows is the history of the ideas put forward by means of explanation as well as a little history of the people behind their ideas. As might be expected, we come across figures such as Tycho Brahe, Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Johannes Kepler and Isaac Newton.

In telling this history, the book's strongest point is in showing the detail behind the basic outline that most science students know. Our modern model of planets in elliptical orbits around the sun did not come about by a sudden eureka moment, but by a series of gradual shifts in thought.

The book ends in the early 19th century. Hoskin considers that at this point astronomy ceased to become a subject in its own right and became subsumed within physics and chemistry. So readers hoping for a history that included modern astronomy may well be disappointed. If that is the case, then I recommend following up with Peter Coles' Cosmology VSI. For while it is interesting enough, there was nothing that grabbed me by the lapels to make me remember it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.7 out of 5 stars  6 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Centuries of Astronomy in 123 Pages 1 April 2007
By Steve R - Published on
This is an excellent short history of developments in astronomy from prehistory to the 19th century. And there is perhaps no one better suited than Michael Hoskin to write it: he is the editor of the `Cambridge Illustrated History of Astronomy'; he has also been the long-standing editor of the `Journal for the History of Astronomy.' He if anyone can distill millennia of stargazing to under 125 pages.

The six short chapters cover the sky in prehistory, astronomy in antiquity, astronomy in the middle ages, the Copernican revolution, astronomy in the age of Newton, and developments in stellar and nebular astronomy (looking beyond our solar system). The book also provides a number of useful illustrations.

This is a great primer, a perfect pocket introduction to the history of astronomy.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Introduction to Astronomy 30 Sep 2010
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Astronomy is one of the oldest intellectual disciplines, and together with mathematics it has a distinction that its history can be traced continuously for several thousands of years. In fact, it is probably much older than mathematics, since we have indirect evidence that even the Stone Age peoples had used positions of stars in the sky for navigation, not to mention all the effort that had gone in the understandings of the sun and the moon. It is maybe somewhat surprising to the moderns that for the better part of its history astronomy had a very practical and sometimes crucial role to play in human societies. As has already been mentioned, being able to predict positions of the stars was invaluable in navigation, and the monthly and yearly positions of the moon and the sun were crucial for the planning of large and predictable agricultural projects.

This very short introduction aims to recapture some of these historical developments. It deals with all the major highlights in the (recorded) history of astronomy up to the middle of the nineteenth century. It is a fascinating look at the way that our understanding of the humanity's place in the universe has developed. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the author did not go down the trite and misleading "religion vs. science" path when approaching this subject, and showed how for each astronomical development there have been many points of view within religious community itself. Furthermore, many (most?) religions do rely on astronomical phenomena for their religious observances, and have throughout history been major supporters of astronomical research.

This is very well written and accessible book. As someone who enjoys reading about both history and science I have been practically glued to it. I highly recommend it.
5.0 out of 5 stars Brief but complete 1 Jan 2014
By Alexánder - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The book, in spite of being only a hundred and some pages long, covers the topic comprhensively. It is also a very enjoyable read.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Big Bang for the Buck! 18 July 2010
By Sulafat - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I love this Oxford "A Very Short Introduction:..." series. I have quite a collection and have yet to find an edition I didn't enjoy reading or learn something new from. If you want an accessible introduction to a new difficult subject, this series is the place to begin from.
4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A lucid overview 17 July 2007
By D. Stover - Published on
Lucid overview of the development of astronomy as a science, from ancient times till the mid-19th century.
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