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Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea Paperback – Unabridged, 18 Apr 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Paperback, Unabridged, 18 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Pan; Unabridged edition (18 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0330432893
  • ISBN-13: 978-0330432894
  • Product Dimensions: 13.1 x 2.9 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 99,603 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description


'...fascinating study of the relationship between science and religion.' -- Daily Telegraph

'Christine Garwood proves in this survey of mavericks from the 19th century onwards who have maintained the world is flat.' -- Sunday Telegraph

'Garwood proves in this survey of Mavericks from the 19th Century onwards, who have maintained that the world is flat.'
-- The Sunday Telegraph

'Garwood, historian of science at the Open University in England, presents a thoroughly enjoyable first book...'
-- Publishers Weekly

'Prodigiously researched, Flat Earth is a fascinating study of the power of ideas.' -- The Guardian

'She has made the most of the wonderfully rich archive of tracts and correspondence...' -- The Fortean Times

Book Description

The first book to unveil the strange crusade to prove that science is fiction and the earth is flat

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This fascinating, if slightly overlong, book is well worth reading for understanding how public scientific debate is constructed. The author draws parallels with Creationist theory, but there are interesting lessons too about some of the political challenges to climate change theory. It's also a good read in general, often illuminating and frequently painfully funny - such as the report of the chap expelled from the Flat Earth Research Society of America for alleged 'spherical tendencies'. My only serious criticism is that the book tells us only about Anglophone 'planoterrestrialism'. Was/is it really confined just to Britain, the US, Canada and New Zealand. What about France and Germany? About this the author makes no mention which is a pity for it would cast flt-earthism in another light if it was/is indeed restricted to 'Anglo-Saxon' countries. Otherwise, for the open-minded reader, here is a worthwhile diversion into examining some features of the odder reaches of human condition with lessons for some of the most critical issue of our day.
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Format: Paperback
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.
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Format: Hardcover
The pathways through which the history of scientific progress can be mapped are strewn with the remains of overturned ideas and outdated pronouncements, some cranky and (with hindsight) nonsensical, others perfectly reasonable given the state of knowledge at the time. Newtonian physics, though sensible at the human scale, suddenly fails to convince at a subatomic level, not because of any failings on the part of Newton, but because technological and mathematical advances have allowed modern physicists to probe closer and deeper. Similarly, in biology, many established taxonomic ideas concerning the evolutionary relationships between major groups of flowering plants, mammals and other large clades are, thanks to molecular phylogenetics, shown to be erroneous. And so science advances, from the clearly wrong to the (probably) correct, leaving in its wake the cast off ideas of previous generations.

Except sometimes, when science (or at least fringe perceptions of scientific understanding) takes a backwards stride of such length that one begins to question whether scientific "facts" mean the same thing to everyone. The concept of the Flat Earth may be a unique example of how a fact (the globularity of the Earth) could be established very early in the development of the rational analysis of nature, only to be rejected by a minor, but vociferous, cohort of "true believers". As this fascinating book by Christine Garwood relates, observations by Aristotle confirmed the true shape of the world, and there were no serious challenges to this idea until the 19th Century.
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Format: Hardcover
You remember the story about the frightened sailors who went with Columbus in 1492, but were sure that they were going to sail off the edge of the world. They almost mutinied, they were so scared. But Columbus got to land rather than to the enormous cataract, proving to the satisfaction of everyone ever since that the world was not flat but round. If you do remember all this, perhaps you also remember being told it was all bosh, but perhaps not; the story of Columbus bravely proving the world was round is such a satisfactory myth that it will probably never die. In _Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea_ (MacMillan), Christine Garwood, a historian of science, starts with debunking this myth, but then shifts to the modern flat-earthers, those from the nineteenth century until now who insisted, starting with the Bible as a foundation and attempting to co-opt science in the flat-earth cause, that the "globularists" were involved in a scandalous conspiracy to turn people away from the Bible. Garwood's often hilarious book is a serious look at an aberrant belief and those who took it up in modern times, centuries after the flat Earth had been scientifically dismissed. Flat-earthism may be nonsense, but it was an anti-science stance taken up by those who believed in a literal Bible, and as such, comparisons may be easily drawn between flat-earthers and creationists.

Educated medieval people did not believe the Earth to be flat. In fact, if they studied their Plato, Aristotle, or Euclid, they knew the shape of the Earth. The Columbus story was appealing to those who unnecessarily wanted to promote a view of science in eternal warfare with religion.
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