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Science of Mechanics in the Middle Ages Hardcover – June, 1959


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 714 pages
  • Publisher: Univ of Wisconsin Pr (June 1959)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299019004
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299019006
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,849,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Lee D. Carlson HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on December 13, 2003
Format: Hardcover
The modern theory of mechanics, due essentially to Isaac Newton, is usually presented in textbooks as a large seventeenth perturbation that was a totally new outlook on physical motion, as one that was opposed to the Aristotelian conception that dominated before Newton's time. This view is completely refuted in this book, as the author gives a detailed overview of the struggles of the medieval physicists to understand the nature of motion. Clearly their thinking on mechanics influenced greatly the work of Galileo and Descartes, and consequently that of Newton. Even though some of their ideas of the medieval scientists were based on mistaken notions, many of them had just enough truth to allow the correct formulations to be accomplished later. The author gives a fascinating discussion of how medieval mechanics, which was predominantly Aristotelian with "some traces of Archimedean character" was subjected to so many changes that it eventually was undermined, forcing a new outlook.
The author explains that it was the work of the French scientist Pierre Duhem that first took a look at the contributions of the medieval scientists. Duhem's work though, according to the author, was flawed, in that it inputed too many modern viewpoints, such as a theory of inertia, to the medieval schoolmen, especially to the Oxford professor John Buridan via his impetus theory. The author admires greatly though the work of Anneliese Maier, who greatly scrutinized the work of Duhem, and the author draws greatly on her work. The translations of the Greek works due to Islamic scholars clearly allowed the medieval scholars to engage in their thinking on Greek mechanics.
Most interestingly, the mechanics of the inclined plane was, as the author shows, solved correctly in the Middle Ages.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a collection of excerpts about mechanics from medieval writers. It is particularly comprehensive for Oxford and Paris writers, like Bradwardine, Buridan, and Oresme, and contains writings on dynamics and kinematics (which Weisheipl in his "The Development of Physical Theory in the Middle Ages" describes respectively as "the relation of mover to resistance" and "the relation of distance to time"). It has both edited versions of the original Latin writings and translations into English with commentary. The book is divided into four parts: (i) statics, (ii) kinematics, (iii) dynamics, and (iv) conclusions.

I have purchased the book and it has a reachable place on my bookshelf. It is unfortunate that it not now in print. It was at least well made when it was published, and the copies I have seen have not fallen apart from age even though it is over 50 years old. If the topics seem interesting and you have the money to spare, I recommend buying it even if you don't plan reading it all. I consider it more a reference book, and if a particular excerpt interests you then you should read that completely. In fact, the commentaries on the writings are good scholarship on medieval physics and could be read somewhat independently of the original writings themselves. E.g., if you want to know more about impetus theory, you could read what Clagett has to say without reading Buridan's original writings; this would be fair because it is easier for a modern reader to digest Clagett than even well translated Buridan.
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