Book Review | Published:

Growth of Astronomical Thought

Nature volume 142, page 647 (08 October 1938) | Download Citation



MR. WATERFIELD has undertaken a very heavy task, and has produced an interesting and useful work. There are, especially in the United States, many text-books of 'descriptive' astronomy, with formulae, diagrams, and (sometimes) excellent illustrations. This is something quite different. Its production has evidently entailed a very considerable amount of research into historical questions, and yet it is not by any means purely a history. The layman will probably feel, after a first reading, that there is an astonishing amount of astronomy of which he had scarcely heard, but which appears, on the whole, to be within his powers of comprehension, and is fascinating in its interest, once it is grasped. For the author has set out to describe not merely the development of knowledge but also the development of understanding; he sketches the processes of thought, the conflicting evidence, the puzzles, and their solution (when it has been attained), and he outlines present knowledge and speculation in a very readable way. Such a question as the motions of the stars as a whole might seem poorly suited to exposition for the lay mind, with no formulae and practically no technical terms allowed; but by an apt use of analogies from everyday life, Mr. Waterfield does, in fact, hold the various classes of motion distinct in the reader's mind, and guides him, if he has a reasonably strong determination to follow, through a maze that was largely uncharted even by professionals at the start of the present century.

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