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Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea Hardcover – Bargain Price, August 5, 2008

4.2 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Garwood, historian of science at the Open University in England, presents a thoroughly enjoyable first book. Examining the belief that the world is flat from a wide array of perspectives, she makes some important points. She demonstrates quite convincingly, for example, that, contrary to what most people believe, the ancients knew the world was not flat: the earth has been widely believed to be a globe since the fifth century B.C. Only in the 19th century did acceptance of a flat earth spread, promoted largely by biblical literalists. Garwood does an impressive job of comparing those flat-earthers with modern-day creationists. She also makes the case that it's all but impossible to argue effectively with true believers. Modern believers assert that the space program is a hoax. In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon, a Washington Post poll estimated that approximately 20 million Americans thought the landing was staged on Earth, underscoring that some outrageous beliefs still hold sway. Garwood is respectful throughout, analyzing the philosophical underpinnings of those who have doubted, and continue to doubt, the Earth's rotundity. (Aug.)
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Review

“An energetic, all-inclusive, and amusing account of man’s impressive capacity for self-delusion. Every creationist should read it.” ---Steve Jones, author of Darwin’s Ghost
“Highly entertaining and often hilarious.” ---Sunday Telegraph
“The focus of Garwood’s impressive research is a forgotten episode
in the history of science.” ---New Scientist
“A glorious romp around the world of Flat Earthism.” ---Daily Express
“Garwood’s often hilarious book is a serious look at an aberrant belief and those who took it up in modern times, centuries after the ?at Earth had been scientifically dismissed.  . . . Garwood’s books shows just how doggedly faith in an unscienti?c idea can hold.” ---The Commercial Dispatch
“[A] quirky and highly entertaining slice of intellectual history. Elicits plentiful laughter and astonishment.” ---Sunday Times
“Wonderful . . . dispassionate, and understanding.” ---Financial Times

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312382081
  • ASIN: B0042P59XC
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.4 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,785,838 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Rob Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on August 5, 2008
Format: Hardcover
You remember the story about the frightened sailors who went with Columbus in 1492, but were sure that they were going to sail off the edge of the world. They almost mutinied, they were so scared. But Columbus got to land rather than to the enormous cataract, proving to the satisfaction of everyone ever since that the world was not flat but round. If you do remember all this, perhaps you also remember being told it was all bosh, but perhaps not; the story of Columbus bravely proving the world was round is such a satisfactory myth that it will probably never die. In _Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea_ (Thomas Dunne Books), Christine Garwood, a historian of science, starts with debunking this myth, but then shifts to the modern flat-earthers, those from the nineteenth century until now who insisted, starting with the Bible as a foundation and attempting to co-opt science in the flat-earth cause, that the "globularists" were involved in a scandalous conspiracy to turn people away from the Bible. Garwood's often hilarious book is a serious look at an aberrant belief and those who took it up in modern times, centuries after the flat Earth had been scientifically dismissed. Flat-earthism may be nonsense, but it was an anti-science stance taken up by those who believed in a literal Bible, and as such, comparisons may be easily drawn between flat-earthers and creationists.

Educated medieval people did not believe the Earth to be flat. In fact, if they studied their Plato, Aristotle, or Euclid, they knew the shape of the Earth. The Columbus story was appealing to those who unnecessarily wanted to promote a view of science in eternal warfare with religion.
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Format: Hardcover
The perils of reviewing books that one has patently never read!

Garwood's book actually goes far beyond the ground covered by Burton Russell's excellent study of the Columbus myth. In fact, the main focus of her book (in chapters 2 through 11 & epilogue) is a different, albeit related, topic - the Victorian public revival of the flat earth idea through flat earth societies that existed in the period 1840-2001. The book is also based on a great amount of original archival research (including a series of unexplored archives of modern day flat earth societies in UK, US and Canada), has 28 pages of end-notes and a bibliography 23 pages long. Contrary to what R.B Cathcart claims, it is an exemplary piece of historical research by a professional historian.

The moral of the story? Bother to read the book before publishing public reviews!!
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Christine Garwood is a freelance writer and researcher; she has also written Mid-Victorian Britain (Shire Living Histories) and Museums in Britain: A History.

She wrote in the Prologue of this 2007 book, “the military metaphor employed by Draper [History Of The Conflict Between Religion And Science] and White [A History of the Warfare of Science with Theology in Christendom]… seized the popular imagination … warfare became the common framework for analyses of the relationship between science and religion … the idea that medieval people thought the earth was flat and Columbus discovered it was round and was recycled until it became standard fare… The myth is all too convenient: the flat-earth idea has become shorthand for ‘Dark Age’ stupidity… before the Enlightenment ear of progress and science… we can assume a sense of superiority and security in our progress from an ignorant and deluded age… Under these circumstances, it is somewhat ironic that … flat-earth belief has a chronology far stranger than all the inventions.” (Pg. 13-14)

She states, “the Bible presents a reasonably clear and consistent view of a tiered universe based on the Sumero-Babylonian model. In this system, the cosmos consists of the vault of heaven… or ‘firmament,’ containing the sun, moon and stars (Genesis 1:14-17).
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Who knew that there were still people who believe the world is flat? The author takes you on a tour of flat earth beliefs and societies from the early Greeks (who knew the earth was round) through Columbus (who also knew) to modern times. Some of the rationalizations the believers use are ludicrous, such as their claim that ships disappear over the horizon because of the bending of light rays, or that the sunset is an optical illusion. Governments are in collusion to fake the launching of satellites and moon landings, and GPS works from earth based triangulation.

In the conclusion, the author compares the round earth deniers to evolution deniers, how they are both often based on religious objections but she points out that they don't always fall in the same camp.

The book bogs down in places as the author goes into great detail on the activities of some of the societies and their founders. I scanned through a few pages in several places. This was enough to lose one star, otherwise I would have awarded 4 stars for general interest.
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