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The Prophet and the Astronomer: Apocalyptic Science and the End of the World Paperback – July 17, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

As in his popular The Dancing Universe, Gleiser (physics and astronomy, Dartmouth Coll.) argues that science and religion spring from a single challenge to the human spirit: anxiety over our mortality, which defines us and gives our life meaning. Thus, the different narratives used by science (the Big Crunch) and religion (the apocalypse) to reconcile our finite existence with an apparently infinite universe are not mutually exclusive; they share an awareness of our limited time on Earth, which motivates us to understand the universe and our place in it. While Gleiser offers an extensive discussion of modern scientific cosmology, his account is not overly technical and is easily accessible to the average reader. One measure of how much a reader has enjoyed a book is the number of margin notes and underlined passages that mark the text, and this reviewer's copy has been copiously highlighted in three different colors. Strongly recommended for both public and academic libraries. James Olson, Northeastern Illinois Univ. Lib., Chicago
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

(*Starred Review*) A rare astrophysicist as comfortable quoting Scripture as explaining formulas, Gleiser ponders the dark parallels between the apocalyptic visions of ancient seers and the cosmic predictions of modern scientists. In refreshing contrast to theorists who dismiss all prescientific cosmology as mere superstition, Gleiser recognizes the imaginative authenticity of humanity's earliest astral terrors. Eclectic scholarship clarifies how fully a cosmic collision could fulfill the grimmest ancient prophecy--how, in fact, such a collision probably wiped out the dinosaurs and how such a collision occasion nearly occurred again in 1996 when a stray asteroid unexpectedly brushed by the earth. But from the conjunction between the oldest religions and the newest science, Gleiser draws more than reasons for terror. In the profound human craving for unity that monotheism has nurtured, he locates the impulse now spurring researchers toward new models of the universe that will finally reveal the beginning and end of galactic time. Gleiser's musings--about how leptons might transmute into quarks, for instance--occasionally will baffle the nonspecialist, but most readers will consider a few moments of perplexity a small price to pay for the opportunity to probe humanity's oldest nightmares and newest aspirations. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; UNABRIDGED VERSION edition (July 17, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393324311
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393324310
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,931,753 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marcelo Gleiser is the Appleton Professor of Natural Philosophy and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is a world-renowned theoretical physicist, the author of over 100 scientific papers and four popular science books in English. (In his native Brazil--he proudly grew up by the shores of fabulous Copacabana beach--where he sometimes is compared to Carl Sagan, he has published 12 books, including a historical novel based on Johannes Kepler's life.) He is fascinated with questions of origins: of the universe, of matter, and of life-- the main topics of his research.

When he is not teaching, doing research, or writing, he loves exploring the still pristine streams of Vermont and New Hampshire with his fly rod in search of wild trout. No, he doesn't ever kill a fish, although sometimes the fish, or their pursuit, come close to killing him. He is also an avid trail runner and obstacle racer, especially Spartan races.

If you want to know more about Marcelo's activities please visit his official web page:
and his blog on science and culture at National Public Radio, shared with four other colleagues:

You can also follow Marcelo on twitter:

And on Facebook:

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Marcelo Gleiser has written an extremely compelling and accessible book on the science of "the end of the world" theories. It's exciting that science is taking a serious look at this, just as they have with the origins of our universe. It is especially exciting to me that this book is not the type of writing that seemingly only other scientists can understand.
-From someone who has never studied physics nor astronomy in a classroom yet wants to know the "real" science behind humanity's "big" questions.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Katie on September 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I just finished reading this book, and I must say that it took much longer than usual to get through it. I tended to read it a bit at a time because, although interesting, it was quite hard to get through. The main reason for this, I think, is that it's filled to the brim with physics-related information - and I have little to no physics background with which to understand these concepts. It's because I believe that many others would be stumped by this information as well, that I have rated "The Prophet & the Astronomer" a 3.

Beyond the complicated physics theories, I found this book to provide quite an interesting look at cosmology through the ages. The author discusses how several hundred years ago, most people believed that such things as comets & shooting stars were actually meant to warn them of bad things to come - famine, war, death, etc... This is how cosmology began to influence, and be influenced by, theology/religion.

He then goes on to show how many cults of past & present still use this type of information to scare their followers into continued cult association, and how they also use such things as comets & shooting stars to then explain away why their predictions didn't come about as they said it would - for ex., they might say that they just saw a shooting star, and this means that God has changed his timing...

It's also shown how each culture tends to believe that the end of the world will occur in their lifetime - people have been preparing for this for thousands of years...

One can see through the progression of this book how some people today still believe much the same things as those in times past re: cosmology & the end.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I read this book primarily on the basis of the recommendation by Freeman Dyson who wrote that this book gives a clear picture of "science evolving within the culture of religion that gave it birth" At the risk of disagreeing with one of my favoritie science authors I would have to say that this book fails. I cannot think of a single book on the same subject, however, that succeeds. The author writes well but does not convince me that the science of today is motivated by the same instincts and attitudes that underlay the concerns of religion in anything more than a superficial sense. The only book to succeed in my memory was " tao of physics" which , unfortunately was simply wrong.
There is a brave attempt to explain inflation theory in an original way, but it too fails. The most interesting chapters are on comets and asteroids, but apart from introducing the subject by pointing out that people had always thought of comets as ill omens there is no real link between how people may have thought then and how or what they think now. The fact is there is a huge difference in our understanding of cosmology. We may want to know about the stars for many of the same reasons. But that is a trivial observation. Science is no longer a religious occupation.
In short I think it is another attempt to fill a market niche of "science-religion", but without any real ideas it fails. I wish Mr. Dyson would actually read the books that he recommends.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Richard E. Noble VINE VOICE on July 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
The Prophet and the Astronomer

By Marcelo Gleiser

Book Review

By Richard E. Noble

"In this book I explore religion's assimilation of cataclysmic cosmic phenomena and its influence on scientific thought through the ages from the pre-Socratic philosophers of ancient Greece to modern day cosmology ... Indeed, I will argue that we create a scientific world as we do a spiritual one - in order to overcome fear, to defy time, to understand our place in the world, and to justify our lives ... Drawing on the Book of Danial, the Book of Revelation, and an investigation of apocalyptic sects, art and literature we will examine the formation and evolution of the solar system, the extinction of dinosaurs, Einstein's general theory of relativity, pulsars and black holes, the big bang and the inflationary universe, all the way to the latest ideas on cosmology."

Reading the above, a curious reader who is not familiar with Marcelo Gleiser might conclude that this is a book by some right wing religious preacher type who is going to do a mystical tap dance on the science of the Universe.

Not so.

Marcelo Gleiser is the real thing. He is a professor of Natural Philosophy, physics, astronomy at Dartmouth College.

If you are like me and found your way to an interest in the origins of the Universe and science in general via early religious training followed by studies of early Greek and Roman philosophers, then you will enjoy reading this book.

This author keeps it as simple and understandable as could be expected while dealing with highly complicated cosmological theory and speculative particle physics.

The first part of the book was right up my alley.
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