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

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Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican + On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres (Great Minds Series) + Epitome of Copernican Astronomy and Harmonies of the World (Great Minds Series)
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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: 7.9 x 5.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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.

More About the Author

Galileo Galilei had seriously considered the priesthood as a young man, at his father's urging he instead enrolled at the University of Pisa for a medical degree.[20] In 1581, when he was studying medicine, he noticed a swinging chandelier, which air currents shifted about to swing in larger and smaller arcs. It seemed, by comparison with his heartbeat, that the chandelier took the same amount of time to swing back and forth, no matter how far it was swinging. When he returned home, he set up two pendulums of equal length and swung one with a large sweep and the other with a small sweep and found that they kept time together. It was not until Christiaan Huygens almost one hundred years later, however, that the tautochrone nature of a swinging pendulum was used to create an accurate timepiece.[21] To this point, he had deliberately been kept away from mathematics (since a physician earned so much more than a mathematician), but upon accidentally attending a lecture on geometry, he talked his reluctant father into letting him study mathematics and natural philosophy instead.[21] He created a thermoscope (forerunner of the thermometer) and in 1586 published a small book on the design of a hydrostatic balance he had invented (which first brought him to the attention of the scholarly world). Galileo also studied disegno, a term encompassing fine art, and in 1588 attained an instructor position in the Accademia delle Arti del Disegno in Florence, teaching perspective and chiaroscuro. Being inspired by the artistic tradition of the city and the works of the Renaissance artists, Galileo acquired an aesthetic mentality. While a young teacher at the Accademia, he began a lifelong friendship with the Florentine painter Cigoli, who included Galileo's lunar observations in one of his paintings.[22][23]

In 1589, he was appointed to the chair of mathematics in Pisa. In 1591 his father died and he was entrusted with the care of his younger brother Michelagnolo. In 1592, he moved to the University of Padua, teaching geometry, mechanics, and astronomy until 1610.[24] During this period Galileo made significant discoveries in both pure fundamental science (for example, kinematics of motion and astronomy) as well as practical applied science (for example, strength of materials and improvement of the telescope). His multiple interests included the study of astrology, which at the time was a discipline tied to the studies of mathematics and astronomy.[25]

Customer Reviews

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Much of the book makes little sense without them.
Alan U. Kennington
It's a wonderful work, full of fascinating and brilliant insights and Stillman Drake's superlative translation makes it extremely readable.
Sid Nuncius
461-462) This book will be both fascinating and “must reading” for anyone interested in the history of scientific thought.
Steven H. Propp

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Frikle 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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10 of 11 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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2 of 2 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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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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Alan U. Kennington on September 13, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This substantial 1632 work by Galileo was about much more than just the "two motions" of the Earth, namely the rotation on its axis and its orbit around the Sun. Galileo used the 3-person dialogue form to present his theories on many other physics and astronomy subjects too.

This Modern Library edition of Galileo's "Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems" is well edited and well bound. The look-and-feel of the book is very pleasing, especially the unusually pleasant color scheme of the front cover, the light but strong paper, and the good choice of font. The introductions and end-notes give excellent context and explanation of aspects of the book which are difficult for the modern reader. The translation is of good quality, an excellent compromise between precision and comprehensibility.

However, there is one thing which must be criticised in the style of this book. That is the lack of pointers to end-notes. There are no asterisks or superscript numbers to tell you where end-notes are provided. My solution was to pencil in the missing end-note references wherever required in the book. So not only did I need to use two book-marks while reading this book. I also had to mark the end-note locations in pencil in advance. Personally, I prefer foot-notes, so that I don't have to use two book-marks and flip back and forth to read the end-notes. In this book, the end-notes are really essential. Much of the book makes little sense without them. On the positive side, the end-notes are very well written.

Concerning the content, at first I was very worried by the medieval argumentation in the first 100 pages or so.
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