The sleepwalkers a history of man's changing vision of the universe

by Arthur Koestler

Paper Book, 1959



Call number




Harmondsworth Penguin by arrangement with Hutchinson 1964, c1959


An extraordinary history of humanity's changing vision of the universe. In this masterly synthesis, Arthur Koestler cuts through the sterile distinction between 'sciences' and 'humanities' to bring to life the whole history of cosmology from the Babylonians to Newton. He shows how the tragic split between science and religion arose and how, in particular, the modern world-view replaced the medieval world-view in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. He also provides vivid and judicious pen-portraits of a string of great scientists and makes clear the role that political bias and unconscious prejudice played in their creativity.

User reviews

LibraryThing member KidSisyphus
Read this for a graduate course in rationalism. I was particularly impressed by the section dedicated to Kepler, who, I am reminded, essentially wrote the first piece of science fiction waaaay back when.

In the middle of the all the gory religious persecution of medieval Europe, a guy figured out
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that the planets move in an elliptical, as opposed to a circular, orbit around the sun. Koestler takes the reader through the stages of Kepler's thinking, with a wink and a nod to the intuitions that would, at times, lift him above that thinking. Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member starcat
It's a really good book about the history of scientific discovery, focusing on the ancient Greeks, Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo. Highlights: Greek scientists had worked out a lot of stuff, but Plato and Aristotle sort of squashed that line of inquiry. Copernicus was possibly the most boring
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famous person in history, and generally seemed like a slacker. Also, we probably credit him with the beginnings of modern astronomy not because he was right about the Sun, but because his book was so unreadable that no one could figure out how wrong he was about the details. Kepler was a superstar, working out the tides, figuring out how telescopes worked, and realizing that planets travel in that most obscure and debased shape, the ellipse. He also had no idea what he'd be remembered for, and he was mostly interested in his totally wrong mystical ideas. He developed the inverse square relationship for optics, and rightly applied it to gravity, but then he totally forgot about it!?. Galileo was a big old douche canoe, and most of the myths about him are completely wrong. He was also wrong in his reasons as to why the earth moved around the sun, and wasted 25 years of his life on it. It was only after the Inquisition put him in his place that he did all his good work.
Koestler is possibly too lenient on the Catholic church throughout, but not egregiously so. There are a lot of eye openers and his writing is usually vivid and dynamic. I have a feeling that current historical scholarship could add a lot of detail and nuance to his story, but as it stands it's quite good.
4 stars oc
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Original publication date


Physical description

20 cm


014055212X / 9780140552126
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