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The Music Of The Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe [Paperback]

Jamie James
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
Price: 11.99 & FREE Delivery in the UK. Details
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Book Description

16 Feb 1995
From the 5th century BC, when Pythagoras first composed his laws of Western music and science, until the flowering of Romanticism over 2000 years later, scientists and philosophers perceived the cosmos musically, as an ordered mechanism whose smooth operation created a celestial harmony - the music of the spheres. The separation of science and music began with the scientific revolution during the Renaissance, and reached a peak with Romanticism, which celebrated what was human, individual and local. 20th-century science and music, argues Jamie James in this book, have rejected the Romantic ideal and placed the ultimate focus outside the reach of human reason once again. The book provides a survey of the history of science and music, a reassessment of Romanticism and the modernist reaction to it, and a radical intellectual journey.

Frequently Bought Together

The Music Of The Spheres: Music, Science and the Natural Order of the Universe + Harmony of the Spheres: Source Book of Pythgorean Tradition in Music: Source Book of Agorean Tradition in Music + Harmonies of Heaven and Earth: Mysticism in Music from Antiquity to the Avant-Garde
Price For All Three: 48.13

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Product details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Abacus; New Ed edition (16 Feb 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0349105421
  • ISBN-13: 978-0349105420
  • Product Dimensions: 12.6 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 469,041 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


An unequivocal affirmation that music is no mere entertainment, but is vitally significant: an important adjunct in healing; an essential part of education. (SUNDAY TIMES)

A learned, sophisticated book, full of surprises. (FINANCIAL TIMES)

James probes deeply into an undervalued question and left me wondering at the extent to which our whole view of reality- and what may lie beyond it- is being revolutionised. (NEW SCIENTIST)

Exuberant and witty. (NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW)

About the Author

Jamie James was born in Houston Texas and is now the New York Correspondant for The Times and frequently contributes to the New York Times. He is a founding member of Discover and a contributing editor of Archeology.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-researched, historical overview 20 Jun 2009
This book is not difficult to read, although some of the mathematical explanations are a little hard to follow for a non-mathematician. It is thought-provoking in its comments on the developments in the idea of the music of the spheres and what this has left us with in the present-day. At least a good starting point if you are looking for more information on this theory.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
It seems that one of JJ's main aims, in this little gem, is to point out some of the more ridiculous compartmentalisations of Western history and philosophy.
As Aslan, from the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe might say; "...we've forgottent the deeper magic".
Should the way of the scientist need to veer off at a tangent to the way of music and the arts?
In order to see the crazy boundaries of ritualised thinking, Mr. James takes us to the deserted borders of music and science.
These borders are patrolled by the blinkered and uniformed guards of either camp.
He's no fundamentalist, though, and he does not look to take us back to a comfortable coherence, based on ignorance and desire.
From Pythagoras to Schoenberg, he takes issue with a nonsensical schism of logical thought, between art and science.
In this he makes a convincing argument for free ideas, which is missing in artistic and scientific arenas at present.
A nice read, historically and philosophically. I recommend it.
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Amazon.com: 3.9 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
55 of 57 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Regrettably Concise 24 April 2000
By David Brehmer - Published on Amazon.com
I began reading this book with the highest of expectations, based both upon the credentials of the author and the reviews contained herein. However, now that I have completed it, I must rate it with some personal disappointment. Although the book is some 230 pages long and covers several millennia worth of history, its structure lends the feeling that it is a collection of condensed articles taken from the pages of periodicals. Anyone who reads Discovery Magazine will immediately recognize this factually succinct trait.
And succinct is what best describes the depth of information presented by this book. It provides a very thorough lineage of relevant historical figures throughout the ages, but sadly it only gives the majority of them a cursory mention. While he devotes alot of attention to the specific numerological devices of Pythagoras and such, very little of their ideas are easily comprehendible according to his fragmented explanations, and the reader must go to an outside source to grasp their true mechanics. The passages concerning musical scales suffers especially from a lack of explanation, and if I had not already possessed an insight into their nature, I would have been utterly befuddled about what Mr. James was trying to tell me.
Further on, the author begins to insert his personal opinions about the people he is describing. In an interesting chronicle of a minor feud between Kepler and Fludd, Mr. James draws sides immediately and nearly dismisses Fludd as a mystic who merely regurgitated archaic knowledge, but only after slight after slight does he admit, seemingly regrettably and with an apologetic tone, that the very crux of Kepler's argument was wrong. And worse still, near the end he offers the opinion that Brahms was the `most cosmic' composer of all time, and then in no way supports his conjecture. It is incredibly frustrating to try and figure out why the author feels the way he does about almost every subject he brings up, an obstacle made even more difficult given the author's semi bombastic, abstruse sentence structure. A notable exception to this is his chapter on Newton, which was the most thorough and intelligible character description offered.
In summation, the phrase `A brief and cursory history of' should be inserted before its title to give any potential reader an accurate idea of what this interesting-yet uneven and biased-account of the dissolution of and between science and music achieves. It mentions fascinating concepts and ideas, but altogether it does little more than refer to them with a glib capacity.
30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully written history of music and science. 12 July 1998
By dilingo@compuserve.com - Published on Amazon.com
This is a beautifully written exposition of both the harmony between music and science before the Renaissance, and the separation of the two into divergent disciplines after. James captures the beauty of the beliefs of the early musician-scientists, and how their contemplations sought to explain the meaning of life, God, and (like the Unification Theory of today) all existence. It is a fascinating story of how, one by one, scientific proofs separated science from the arts as knowledge increased. The book is well-explained, stimulating to the higher brain, and soothing to the lower brain. (Sorry, but if you get that, then you get it--and the book.) A rare non-fiction in that I never put it down.
15 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not a definitive exposition but a nice introduction 19 Jun 2001
By Chris B - Published on Amazon.com
Jamie James did not write, in this work, the definitive exposition on The Music of the Spheres. What is contained in this work is, however, an excellent introduction into the topic in my opinion. Many of the key players are mentioned and a bit of biographical background information is presented with them which provides a good reference point for more reading.
As a good introduction should, this book starts in the ancient past with Pythagoras and Plato and moves right up to the 20th century. There is a bit, perhaps, of editorial bias on some of the characters that have been involved in this topic throughout history; nevertheless, one is not put off on anyone mentioned by the book if someone decided they'd like more than an introductory course in the Music of the Spheres.
As it was my intention, before even reading this book, to look deep into this subject, I was not put off at all by the historical coverage of the topic as opposed to a more practical treatment. It's not an in-depth practical work on the Music of the Spheres, but as an introduction to the topic and coverage of some of the historical and biographical background, I was not left disappointed.
A very interesting read, it fueled the desire to look deeper into the subject and helped shed a little background and perspective on a few of the historical figures connected with the topic. Worth the read, even twice.
1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars James' reach exceeds his grasp in The Music of the Spheres. 6 Oct 2013
By tambascot - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The Music of the Spheres is a not-completely worthless history of the inter-relation of music (and to an extent, art in general) and science. If James had stopped at providing a simple survey of his materials, he might have done well in providing a brief history of Western civilization's evolving attitudes toward music and science up to the 18th century. James, unfortunately, fails to prove his thesis, and as science becomes more complex, shrinks from that part of his discussion.

James posits that science has failed modern society in a way that it did not fail ancient civilizations through the Romantic era. Philosophy and science, bound together, provided mankind with a sense of place in the universe, and this was not only reflected in the development of art, but this philosophical understanding derived, in portion, from understanding of music. While that may be true, the understanding that the ancient philosophers gathered from their musical experiments was the foundation for centuries of fallacious thinking about the nature of the universe which, when it clashed with empirical observation during the Renaissance, led to the arrest of Galileo, among others. In defending this short-sighted view of the importance of music, James is left in the awkward position of supporting a philosophical view of the world that is not supported by our observations of the world. James never gives us this defense, and instead discusses the elevation of the status of the artist as the meaning-maker in the Romantic era at length, without ever really stopping to consider that science's contributions to society since the mid-1800s could be anything but a bad thing.

All this seems to be because James has fundamentally misunderstood the project of philosophy, and the project of science as a sub-discipline of philosophy. Philosophers have been tasked for millennia with helping us understand everything from the best form of government to our place in the universe, and in the 1660s, the "experimental program" of philosophy began diverging into modern science: a form of philosophy that examines the world around us the way it actually is, and attempts to draw conclusions from observations.

The experimental program of philosophy was a marked difference from the inductive approaches that led the ancients to rationalize about the music of the spheres, but just because the work of science has branched off from the work of philosophy does not mean that philosophers have stopped asking questions of grand importance. James here seems to be lamenting the passage of an era when it was possible for someone to make wild rationalizations about the function of the universe from the banging of pots.

While it is not clear that James does not understand modern science well enough to discuss it in relation to music, he refrains from that discussion as his history approaches the modern day. He shifts the conversation away from his original theme by simple dismissals that theories of evolution and quantum mechanics have left us nothing but a spiritual sense of ennui as the universe ceases to have any inherent meaning. Even as James discusses more recent musical developments (like 12-tone composition) and the increasing diversity within musical tastes, he fails to grasp that our rich musical landscape is possible, in part, because science has helped give us the philosophical means to understand that we all get to decide what the universe means for us.

Unable or unwilling to engage with poly-structuralist modes of meaning-making, James leaves the reader with a wish for a moment of silence in a cacophonous landscape. Unable to perceive the singular song that would give us all meaning in the noise, James covers his ears, and invites the reader to do the same.

James' reach exceeds his grasp in The Music of the Spheres. While James' understanding of music history is beyond dispute, this book would have been much better had he as complete an understanding of science or philosophy. Instead, The Music of the Spheres reads like an undergraduate essay on a complex topic. James is capable of telling part of the story, and if he stuck to the part that he knew about, this would have been a much better book.
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars thumbs up. 24 Nov 2013
By Hakop - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Excellent book, filled with knowledge and goodness and from a place of well-informed rationality and intelligence and rhetoric. Satisfied with my purchase and reading of this excellent book for any musicians collection.
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