Flat Earth

Flat Earth

The History of An Infamous Idea

Book - 2008
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Contrary to popular belief fostered in countless school classrooms the world over, Christopher Columbus did not discover that the earth was round. The idea of a spherical world had been widely accepted in educated circles from as early as the fourth century b.c. Yet, bizarrely, it was not until the supposedly more rational nineteenth century that the notion of a ?at earth really took hold. Even more bizarrely, it persists to this day, despite Apollo missions and widely publicized pictures of the decidedly spherical Earth from space.

            Based on a range of original sources, Garwood's history of ?at-Earth beliefs---from the Babylonians to the present day---raises issues central to the history and philosophy of science, its relationship to religion and the making of human knowledge about the natural world. Flat Earth is the ?rst de'nitive study of one of history's most notorious and persistent ideas, and it evokes all the intellectual, philosophical, and spiritual turmoil of the modern age. Ranging from ancient Greece, through Victorian England, to modern-day America, this is a story that encompasses religion, science, and pseudoscience, as well as a spectacular array of people and places. Where else could eccentric aristocrats, fundamentalist preachers, and conspiracy theorists appear alongside Copernicus, Newton, and NASA, except in an account of such a legendary misconception?

Thoroughly enjoyable and illuminating, Flat Earth is social and intellectual history at its best.

Publisher: New York, NY : Thomas Dunne Books, 2008.
Edition: First Thomas Dunne Books edition.
ISBN: 9780312382087
0312382081
Branch Call Number: 525.1 GAR
Characteristics: xii, 436 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 25 cm

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dennismmiller
Dec 16, 2016

Once upon a time, every American schoolchild knew that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and proved, despite the obscurantism of swarthy Inquisitors, that the earth was round. Many are still taught this, if not as pure history, at least as part of the mythical war between Science and Faith. Of course, by the time of Columbus the fact of the sphericity of the earth had been virtually unchallenged for two thousand years and was firmly embedded in medieval culture, as witness The Divine Comedy and the emblem of the globus cruciger, the orb topped with a cross, used as a symbol of Christ's dominion over the world.

As Christine Garwood explains, the legend of Columbus as the conqueror of flat earth superstition had its origins in the early nineteenth century and the desire to cast Science as the liberator of mankind from the slavery of religion. Ironically, it was this same narrative that helped to generate the first genuine flat earth theorists in a millennium, as a few extreme fundamentalists, believing that science was the inveterate enemy of what they were convinced was the Biblical view of the universe, declared that the supposed roundness of the earth was, in fact, a massive deception. Turning the tables on their opponents, they claimed that their "zetetic" mode of inquiry, which relied entirely on personal observation and experience, was more objective than conventional science. Indeed, they even attacked the round earth "theory" as an ancient superstition with no place in a more enlightened age.

Garwood traces the history of flat earth belief from the debating societies of Victorian England to the desert of twentieth century California. Along the way, she includes a colorful assortment of cranks and charlatans, from aristocratic dilettantes to fire-breathing faith healers to playful Canadian academics, all of whom Garwood treats with admirable sympathy. In addition to being consistently interesting, Flat Earth reveals that, far from being a survival of "medieval superstition", flat earth belief is a form of modern pseudo-science, which not only helps to explain the fringe appeal of a flat earth, but more popular forms of pseudo-science such as "creation science".

r
rpavlacic
May 10, 2016

Contrary to the popular belief that Columbus discovered the earth was round, the truth is that the idea was accepted as early as the 4th century BC. This book argues the idea of a flat earth emerged in the 19th century by people who took the Bible too literally and were opposed to any kind of science. It is pointed out that not all creationists believe the world is flat, but rather all flat earthers are creationists. Gives a sweep through a "utopian" colony outside of Chicago that made flat earth its core belief, and a run through the space race and flat earthers continuing to believe their version of the world in spite of irrefutable evidence. That 55% of Americans do not know the earth revolves around the sun once a year is the book's chilling (pardon the pun) conclusion. A fair study of what happens when beliefs get out of hand, but by no means a masterpiece.

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