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The Grand Contraption: The World as Myth, Number, and Chance

By: David Park

336 pages, 8 halftones. 41 line illus. 2 tables

Princeton University Press

Paperback | May 2007 | #168451 | ISBN-13: 9780691130538
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £21.95 $28/€26 approx
Hardback | Dec 2005 | #154767 | ISBN: 0691121338
Out of Print Details

About this book

The Grand Contraption tells the story of humanity's attempts through 4,000 years of written history to make sense of the world in its cosmic totality, to understand its physical nature, and to know its real and imagined inhabitants. No other book has provided as coherent, compelling, and learned a narrative on this subject of subjects. David Park takes us on an incredible journey that illuminates the multitude of elaborate "contraptions" by which humans in the Western world have imagined the earth they inhabit--and what lies beyond. Intertwining history, religion, philosophy, literature, and the physical sciences, this eminently readable book is, ultimately, about the "grand contraption" we've constructed through the ages in an effort to understand and identify with the universe.

Through flood myths and daimones (guardian angels), and the interplay of the elements--earth, air, fire and water--Park lovingly charts the history of how we imagines Earth and out place in its surroundings. -- Paul Nettleton The Guardian Bring Homer and Einstein, Aristotle and Columbus into one timeless room (with translators), and their conversation would likely turn to the themes of this astonishingly capacious history of cosmology... An exhilarating intellectual adventure. Booklist In this comprehensive and fascinating book, Park reviews how theologians, philosophers, and mathematicians have attempted to explain subjects ranging from the creation of life to the nature of matter and the structure of the universe... Park gives a comprehensive and readable overview of the 'grand contraption' that is the universe. Science News The Grand Contraption is a masterful presentation of the long timelines in the history of cosmology. It is a remarkable book on the development of the worldview from chaos to cosmos, and from the most ancient cultures to modern time. -- Helge Kragh Physics Today There is no practical way, of course, to pack all human understanding into a single volume, and Park doesn't try. Instead, he traces our evolving lines of reasoning, at least those emerging in the Western world, from early myth through the emergence of modern philosophy to the establishment of scientific method... From person to person, period to period, Park threads together how myths were jettisoned for fact, how fact turned out to be more fabulous than myth. -- Scott LaFee San Diego Union-Tribune [A] well-written history of human thought. -- Herbert E. Kasube MathDL This book celebrates the formation of ideas based on myth, religion, aesthetics, logic and mathematics as they have evolved over the past four thousand years... David Park is a fabulous guide through the history of these ideas and the minds of the great participants. -- B. I. Henry Australian Physics By abandoning any attempt to construct a neat plot, Park has avoided the temptation to trace out a progressive line leading inexorably toward modern science, and the book's meandering structure itself recalls the nondirectional pattern of scientific change... Park's decision to be guided by personal choice and serendipity has led him to construct a meta-commentary on scienceA's history. -- Patricia Fara Isis


List of Illustrations ix Preface xiii CHAPTER ONE: Voices from the Sands 1 1.1 The Biblical Universe 1 1.2 Tales from Sumer and Egypt 6 1.3 Two More Worlds 15 1.4 Deluge 18 1.5 The Twisted Axle 22 CHAPTER TWO: Managing the World 26 2.1 Dramatis Personae 27 2.2 The Lower Tier 31 2.3 The Shape of the World 35 2.4 Fortune-Telling 40 2.5 The Stars Move Westward 44 2.6 Guiding Hands 47 CHAPTER THREE: Guesswork 54 3.1 A Mass of Rock 54 3.2 Ionians 57 3.3 Earth, Sun, Moon, and Law 60 3.4 A World Made of Numbers 62 3.5 Change and Eternity 68 3.6 Theories of Matter 72 3.7 Atoms and the Pursuit of Happiness 78 CHAPTER FOUR: Earth and Heaven 83 4.1 Law and Nature 83 4.2 Measuring Months and Years 87 4.3 Plato's Fantasy 88 4.4 Aristotle's Optimism 96 CHAPTER FIVE: Beginnings and Endings 107 5.1 Time and Space 107 5.2 Creation 111 5.3 The Universe Recycled 116 5.4 The End of Everything 120 CHAPTER SIX: Philosophy Continued 126 6.1 The Stars in Motion 126 6.2 Stars, Earth, and Numbers 132 6.3 Omens and Demons 136 6.4 Remembrance of Things Past 142 6.5 Motes of Dust 148 6.6 The Great Design 153 INTERLUDE: The World Map 161 I.1 Earth and Cosmos 162 I.2 Explorers and Traders 164 I.3 The Christian Earth 168 I.4 Travelers' Tales 172 I.5 The Age of Exploration 180 CHAPTER SEVEN: Toward a New Astronomy 190 7.1 The Sun Stands Still 191 7.2 The Mathematical Plan 197 7.3 The World Observed 204 7.4 A World Invented 210 7.5 Isaac Newton 217 CHAPTER EIGHT: What Is the World Made Of? 225 8.1 Atoms Reborn 226 8.2 Transformations 228 8.3 A Theory of Matter 231 8.4 Atoms and Numbers 233 8.5 Ether and the Nature of Light 239 CHAPTER NINE: The Universe Measured 245 9.1 Surveyors at Work 245 9.2 The Age of the Earth 251 9.3 The Long Descent of Man 255 CHAPTER TEN: The Exploding Universe 269 10.1 The Cosmos in Motion 269 10.2 The Big Bang 272 10.3 What's Out There? 279 CHAPTER ELEVEN: The View from Here 283 11.1 Is There Anyone Else? 283 11.2 The Best of All Possible Worlds? 286 11.3 Will It Ever End? 289 11.4 Reflections 292 References and Further Reading 297 Bibliography 311 Index 327

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David Park is Webster Atwell-Class of 1921 Professor of Physics, Emeritus at Williams College. He is the author of seven previous books, including "The Fire within the Eye", a "New York Times" Notable Book of the Year in 1997, and "The How and the Why" (both Princeton).

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