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The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe Paperback – 7 Aug 2014


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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (7 Aug 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141394536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141394534
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 92,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

The Sleepwalkers is a valuable and provocative book . . . a work with a noble aim (Sunday Times)

The greatest part of this massive work is a close and valuable study of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo . . . He writes tensely, with passion, as though personally involved, about events that took place more than 300 years ago (The Times)

About the Author

Arthur Koestler (1905-1983) was an extraordinary polymath, writer and political polemicist. His most famous works include the novels Darkness at Noon and Arrival and Departure, his autobiographical writings, including Spanish Testament and Scum of the Earth, and his visionary non-fiction, including The Ghost in the Machine, The Case of the Midwife Toad and The Sleepwalkers.

John Gray has been Professor of Politics at Oxford University, Visiting Professor at Harvard and Yale and Professor of European Thought at the London School of Economics. He now writes full time. His books include False Dawn: The Delusions of Global Capitalism, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, The Immortalization Commission: The Strange Quest to Cheat Death and, most recently, a sequel to Straw Dogs, The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths. His selected writings, Gray's Anatomy, was published in 2009.


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54 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 July 2001
Format: Paperback
Koestler gives a comprehensive account of the development of astronomy from the Babylonians through ancient Greece to mediaeval Europe and on to Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Newton. His development of the personalities, informed by copious reference to published works and particularly, where available, to the personal letters of these and many other people less well-known, brings them to life in a quite dramatic way. The notes and references alone occupy 54 pages. Koestler sees as "sleepwalking" the process by which the modern world slowly came to recognise anew the true nature of the cosmos after nearly two millenia of speculation and stumbling, constrained and dominated by Aristotelian nonsense. A particularly instructive quotation from Astronomia Nova(1609) by Kepler shows that he all but enunciated the law of universal gravity, "Gravity is the mutual bodily tendency between cognate bodies towards unity or contact.....so that the earth draws a stone much more than the stone draws the earth......If the earth and the moon were not kept in their respective orbits by a spiritual or some other equivalent force, the earth would ascend towards the moon one fifty-fourth part of the distance, and the moon would descend the remaining fifty-three parts of the interval, and thus they would unite. ...." By contast Newton wrote to a friend about 70 years later "That gravity should be innate, inherent, and essential to matter, so that one body may act upon another, at a distance through a vacuum, without the mediation of anything else,....is...so great an absurdity, that no man who has ....a competent faculty of thinking, can ever fall into it.Read more ›
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Francis on 22 Oct 2003
Format: Paperback
Sometimes you have a book that you read over and over again, just for the pleasure. The Sleepwalkers falls into this category for me ! I got this book more than 30 years ago, and have read it many times. Not so long ago I was stupid enough to lend it to someone. It is now time to read it again, for I need to satisfy my soul with stories of great discoveries. So I will have to buy the book once more, and this time it stays on my bookshelf !
It is easy for us to believe that the Earth goes around the Sun. We accept it just as our children accept mobile telephones, without questions. Koestler tells the story of the men who discovered how the Solar System works. From a flat earth with the devil at the horizon, to the planets spinning eliptically around the Sun, Koestler puts us in the context, so we can understand how a handful of great thinkers shook the foundations of science (and religion), and how they sometimes risked their career or even their life in order to uphold their "heretical" proposals.
You would think that Koestler was in the room at the time of the happening. He is one of those story tellers that builds climate, background, declines the personalities of his actors, and then tells a damned fine story. You find yourself holding your breath as each chapter unfolds, almost as if it is by chance that these great scientists (Galileo, Kepler, etc.) discover the truth. Happily, all the stories finish well, and we can breathe a sigh of relief when we reach the last page.
The cosmos as we know it today can continue to exist, and by chance, Koestler was there to tell us the whole story.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 13 Oct 1997
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most richly rewarding books I have ever read. It succeeds on several levels: as a history of the science of astronomy; as a series of very human biographies of the visionary astronomers who made landmark discoveries; and mostly as a brilliant discussion of the evolution of human thought as it comes to grips with the infinite. Koestler has a ferocious intellect-- the reader can almost warm his hands by the glow-- which he uses to illuminate and find meaning in a series of challenging topics. For me, this was a truly magic book, beautifully written.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jezza on 13 Aug 2008
Format: Paperback
...somewhat spoiled by the audible grinding of Koestler's favourite axes - ESP, a little dig at Marxist interpretations of history, and so on.

On the latter point, I couldn't help feeling that he rather underplays the impact of economic development on intellectual development. Every so often it almost peeps through -- the telescopes that were made by spectacle-makers rather than astronomers or scientists, for example. And who was it that was so keep on getting better astronomical tables? Navigators rather than astrologers, I suspect. And those instruments that the astronomers used? Who designed and built them, and for what?

On a similar theme, why not at least a passing comment on the contrast between what the academics were teaching and what craftsmen and engineers must have understood to do their jobs - they couldn't have been applying Aristotelean physics, could they?

Still, this is a great book, and I thoroughly agree that every sixth-former (especially science students) should have to read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 10 Aug 1997
Format: Paperback
Animated and opinionated, but thorough and conscientious study of the interrelationships between Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton.
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