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Aristarchus of Samos: The Ancient Copernicus (Dover Books on Astronomy) Paperback – December 9, 2004
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About the Author
Thomas Little Heath: Bringing the Past to Life
Thomas Little Heath (1861–1940) was unusual for an authority on many esoteric, and many less esoteric, subjects in the history of mathematics in that he was never a university professor. The son of an English farmer from Lincolnshire, Heath demonstrated his academic gifts at a young age; studied at Trinity College, Cambridge, from 1879 to 1882; came away with numerous awards; and obtained the top grade in the 1884 English Civil Service examination. From that foundation, he went to work in the English Treasury, rose through the ranks, and by 1913, was permanent secretary to the Treasury, effectively the head of its operations. He left that post in 1919 at the end of the first World War, worked several years at the National Debt office, and retired in 1926.
During all of that time, however, he became independently one of the world's leading authorities on the history of mathematics, especially on the history of ancient Greek mathematics. Heath's three-volume edition of Euclid is still the standard, it is generally accepted that it is primarily through Heath's great work on Archimedes that the accomplishments of Archimedes are known as well as they are.
Dover has reprinted these and other books by Heath, preserving over several decades a unique legacy in the history of mathematical scholarship.
In the Author's Own Words:
"The works of Archimedes are without exception, monuments of mathematical exposition; the gradual revelation of the plan of attack, the masterly ordering of the propositions, the stern elimination of everything not immediately relevant to the purpose, the finish of the whole, are so impressive in their perfection as to create a feeling akin to awe in the mind of the reader." — Thomas L. Heath
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
Heath really goes into detail on each of the ancient schools of astronomy in Greece. There were in fact a good many points of view -- the earth-centered view, the view that the earth rotates daily about its axis, the view of everything going around a fiery center, the "concentric spheres" variant of Eudoxus of the earth centered view, the Aristotelian variant of that, the eventual Ptolemaic view of epicycles and all that ... and finally the view of Aristarchus, which was essentially the Copernican sun-centered view (but without Copernicus' marvelous insights into how such a view simplified everything).
Heath not only goes into detail about each of these schools of thought -- it can be pretty rough going trying to follow all of this, especially because of the esoteric modes of speaking they often employed -- he also gives pithy summaries of what each school was saying, and a critical evaluation of their worth and influence.
If you really want to gain an appreciation of the variety of the ancient Greek schools of thought, of their struggle and progress over seven centuries in describing the motions in the heavens, of the reasonableness of much of their thinking, of the magnificence of their achievement -- I heartily recommend this book, then I recommend, either before or after, exploring the Copernican revolution and the rest of the scientific revolution, in the books by Armitage, Kuhn, Hall, and others.
If you want to know more about what the Greeks did after Aristarchus, I recommend, in addition to Evans's book mentioned above, JLE Dreyer's "A History of Astronomy from Thales to Kepler," another classic survey from about the same time.
I will use this notation: E, M, S are the centers of the earth, moon and sun respectively, and E', M', S' are points on their apparent perimeters.
The ratio of the distances from the earth to the moon and from the earth to the sun can be determined by measuring the angle MES at half moon. For at half moon the angle EMS=90° and the angle MES is measurable, so we know all angles of this triangle and thus the ratios of its sides.
The ratio of the sizes of the moon and the sun can then be inferred at a solar eclipse. For at a solar eclipse, the moon precisely covers the sun. Thus EMM' is similar to ESS', with the scaling factor discovered above, i.e. SS':MM'::ES:EM.
The ratio of the distance of the moon to its size can be inferred from its angular size. For the angle EMM'=90° and the angle MEM' is measurable, so we know all angles of this triangle and thus the ratios of its sides.
These distances can be related to the radius of the earth at a lunar eclipse. For the shadow that the earth casts on the moon is about two moon-diameters wide.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
The first part of this book is a competent survey of what the doxographic literature has to say about early astronomy. Read morePublished 1 month ago by Jordan Bell