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Kepler's Somnium: The Dream, or Posthumous Work on Lunar Astronomy Paperback – September 18, 2003


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Dover Publications (September 18, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0486432823
  • ISBN-13: 978-0486432823
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.3 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,519,280 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on January 7, 2004
Format: Paperback
Although technology did not develop to the extent that actual travel to the Moon could take place, for centuries people posited that it was theoretically possible and longed for the time when it would happen. When Galileo first broadcast his findings about the solar system in 1610, he sparked a flood of speculation about lunar flight. Johann Kepler, himself a pathbreaking astronomer, posthumously published a novel, "Somnium" (Dream) (1634), that recounted a dream of a supernatural voyage to the Moon in which the visitors encountered serpentine creatures. He also included much scientific information in the book, speculating on the difficulties of overcoming the Earth's gravitational field, the nature of the elliptical paths of planets, the problems of maintaining life in the vacuum of space, and the geographical features of the Moon. It is an interesting and useful and perhaps the first entry in the genre of science fiction.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Aaron Wooldridge on April 27, 2011
Format: Paperback
"Somnium" (which means "Dream") by 17th century astronomer Johann Kepler is quite possibly the first modern story of space travel. It was not published until after Kepler's death and was rarely published or translated until the late 1800s. Today it is very difficult to find English translations of this book, most copies selling used for more than $100. I had to acquire a copy through inter-library loan, but even that was not the real book from the publisher. My library copy was a facsimile produced by a university in the 1980s of the mid 1900s translation in this Amazon listing. I am not aware of any public domain e-book versions of Somnium -- if anyone knows a website where I can download one please let me know in the comments.

Kepler wrote Somnium as a fantasy literary platform to launch his scientific defense of the then-unpopular astronomical theories of Copernicus, namely that the earth and other planets travel around the sun. For fear of being persecuted like Galileo, Kepler kept his Copernican ideas out of the public eye, only discussed them with close confidants, wrote Somnium as a fantasy taking place within a dream, and delayed publishing the book for decades. He intended the short story as a thought experiment to consider what the earth might look like from the moon. In doing so he devised some physics hypotheses of space travel that remain fairly accurate to this day, and he even realized centuries before Darwin and natural selection that lifeforms in wildly differing environments would appear and behave very differently from each other.

Somnium is an extremely short story, taking up only about 20 pages. These are followed by about 80 pages of Kepler's detailed scientific notes (originally footnotes but fortunately moved until after the main text in this edition).
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Viktor Blasjo on May 17, 2010
Format: Paperback
The Somnium is basically a straightforward account of the moon-equivalents of our days, years, seasons, eclipses, tides, climate zones, view of the planets, means of timekeeping, etc. The playful and pleasant tone of the work may be illustrated by a note where Kepler argues that, owing to the earth's size, the moon receives a significant amount of reflected heat from the earth, making the nights mild in the regions of the moon facing the earth:

"The warmth of moonlight ... we may investigate with our sense of touch, aided of course by art. For if you receive the rays of the full moon on a concave parabolic, or even spherical, mirror, at the focal point, where the rays come together, you will feel a certain warm breath, as it were. This happened to me at Linz, when I was busy with other mirror experiments and not thinking about the warmth of light. For I began looking around to see whether anybody was blowing on my hand." (pp. 122-123)

I was disappointed that Kepler treats the biological implications of his meticulous astronomical account so briefly. Apparently, the moon is full of serpents and pine cones (p. 28), but there is little elaboration on this point. Also sadly, Kepler tells us that he has suppressed a discussion of how living conditions on the moon affect its political climate (p. 130, seemingly omitted for fear of its misinterpretation as allegoric of earthly affairs).

It is of course ridiculous to call this "one of the most important books in the history of science" (back cover). It is also quite silly to call it a work of fiction or even science fiction: the fictional component of the work amounts to little more than a fanciful poetical preface which has nothing to do with the treatise itself.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Disapointed on April 30, 2013
Format: Paperback
Why would we limit such an important figure in human history's work only to the privileged? This should be available to EVERYONE! My disdain for the never ending greed of humanity is immense.
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