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Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican Paperback – October 2, 2001

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: Italian

About the Author

J. L. Heilbron is a professor of history and Vice Chancellor Emeritus, University of California at Berkeley, and currently Senior Research Fellow, Worcester College, Oxford. He is the author of numerous books on the history of science, including most recently The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories and Geometry Civilized: History, Culture, and Technique.

Stephen Jay Gould is the Alexander Agassiz professor of zoology and professor of geology at Harvard and the Vincent Astor visiting professor of biology at New York University. Recent books include Full House, Dinosaur in a Haystack, and Questioning the Millennium. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and New York City.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 586 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library (October 2, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037575766X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375757662
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #140,895 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Michael Fridman on May 1, 2005
Format: Paperback
During the [in]famous controversy of Galileo and the Church, the actual point of contention was this very work which Galileo published. In the Dialogue, he was supposed to set forth arguments for and agains the Ptolemaic worldview (the unmoving earth in the centre of the universe) and the Copernican (the earth and other planets going around the sun). This book does that, and brilliantly, showing Galileo's resourcefulness as a scientist, philosopher (at least to an extent!) and writer. The charge against him was that rather than being even-handed, the book was clear support of Copernicanism. This is a non-obvious topic but what is obvious is the importance and magnificence of the work in terms of both the subject matter (the importance of the structure of the universe) and method (a colourful dialogue containing heated debate which spans literally dozens of arguments for and against each system).

The work has 3 characters: Salviati who is a Copernican, Simplicio who is an Aristotelian and follower of the Ptolemaic system, and Sagredo, a non-affiliated but intelligent person. They meet and debate over 4 days. The first deals with the question of whether the substance of the heavens is fundamentally different to the earth as well as some other fundamental assertions of Aristotelianism. The second deals with the earth's daily rotation. The third is about the alleged yearly orbit of the earth around the sun. The fourth (considered by Galileo to be the crown of his argument - which is all the more endearing as it is wrong) is about the cause of the tides.

Reading this is especially interesting because [almost!] all of us believe that the earth goes around the sun, so it's easy to just approach this simplistically.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Almahed on January 12, 2008
Format: Paperback
I think one cannot be called "physicist" if never read this book. It is a classic that show how the foundations of the newtonian physics did were created.

And the good thing is this is a suitable book for everyone from the layman to the PHD, easy to read, requires nothing more than basic mathematical concepts and imagination.

The price, already low, is nothing compared to the pleasure of reading such piece of art.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jafrank on March 10, 2012
Format: Paperback
Galileo is a seriously good writer, he's got a great sense of rhythm and the imagery he employs to get his points across about everything from how logic works, to what happens when a canon is fired, are brilliant. The dialogue format also works really well here, its actually really refreshing to see several different voices working through a series of problems instead of just reading one long, bloated tract. Best of all, he attacks intellectual dogmatism head on, and makes the case that when a set of observations about the world (specifically Aristotle's) don't seem to match it anymore, well you should probably figure something else out instead of just stuffing your fingers in your ears. I'd recommend this to almost anyone, its foundational and beautifully written.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Steven H Propp TOP 50 REVIEWER on July 16, 2014
Format: Paperback
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was an Italian physicist, mathematician, engineer, astronomer, and philosopher known as the “Father of Modern Science.” Some of his "popular" writings are collected in Discoveries and Opinions of Galileo. The book is a fictional four-day series of discussions between two philosophers (Salvitri, expressing Galileo's “heliocentric” position; and Sagredo, who is "neutral") and a layman rather insultingly named Simplicio, who represents the Ptolemaic/“geocentric” view endorsed by Pope and the Catholic Church. [NOTE: page numbers refer to a 496-page paperback edition.]

He wrote in his introduction "To the Discerning Reader," that "Three principal headings are treated. First, I shall try to show that all experiments practicable upon the earth are insufficient measures for proving its mobility... Secondly, the celestial phenomena will be examined, strengthening the Copernican hypothesis until it might seem that this must triumph absolutely... In the third place, I shall propose an ingenious speculation. It happens that long ago I said that the unsolved problem of the ocean tides might receive some light from assuming the motion of the earth…” (Pg. 6)

Salvitri says, “The moon certainly agrees with the earth in its shape, which is indubitably spherical. This follows necessarily from its disc being seen perfectly circular, and from the manner of its receiving light from the sun.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Veli-Pekka Ranta on December 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) was able to publish his dialogue on the word systems only in 1632 when he was already 68 years old. He had written it in Italian to reach the widest possible audience. Galileo supported the sun-centered Copernican system over the earth-centered Ptolemaic system approved by the church. For this reason, he was condemned by Inquisition the next year.

In the book, three persons discuss about the world systems during four days. The persons are: Salviati who is very much like Galileo itself, Sagredo, an open-minded supporter of Copernican system, and Simplicio, a fairly stupid supporter of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic philosophy.

Galileo’s treatment is exhaustive. Even though I am a fan of Galileo, I must admit that at several times I had to struggle against skipping few pages. Earlier, I had had similar moments when reading another classic, Charles Darwin’s “On the Origin of Species”. Fortunately, the dry sections are not too long, and the book contains many highlights some of which will be listed below.

First day (p. 9-121)
Salviati attacks against the old Aristotelian philosophy. One of his key verses is (p. 10): “I much wish that Aristotle had proved to me by rigorous deductions … ”. I especially liked the section where Salviati uses a mirror to demonstrate that the surface of the moon is not smooth (s. 82-92). At the end of the day Sagredo praises the achievements of human intelligence: sculpture, painting, music, poetry, invention of writing etc.. He states his motto (p. 120): “… when shall I be able to cease my amazement?”

Second day (p. 123-319)
The diurnal rotation of the earth is discussed, especially the aspect why the effects of this rotation cannot be directly observed, e.g.
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