Books  Physical Sciences  Cosmology & Astronomy 

In Search of the True Universe: The Tools, Shaping, and Cost of Cosmological Thought

  • Shows how the quest to understand the universe evolved from a personal way of conducting research to a governmentally-shaped enterprise
  • Demonstrates how progress in astronomy and related fields has been linked to national priorities, helping researchers to set realistic goals
  • Proposes the future shape of astronomical research funding through voluntary and communal sources
  • Links the development of astronomy's most powerful tools to their military and industrial origins

By: Martin Harwit(Author)

456 pages, 61 b/w illustrations, 4 tables

Cambridge University Press

Hardback | Jan 2014 | #206503 | ISBN-13: 9781107044067
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £40.99 $55/€47 approx

About this book

In In Search of the True Universe astrophysicist and scholar Martin Harwit examines how our understanding of the Cosmos advanced rapidly during the twentieth century and identifies the factors contributing to this progress. Astronomy, whose tools were largely imported from physics and engineering, benefited mid-century from the U.S. policy of coupling basic research with practical national priorities. This strategy, initially developed for military and industrial purposes, provided astronomy with powerful tools yielding access – at virtually no cost – to radio, infrared, X-ray, and gamma-ray observations.

Today, astronomers are investigating the new frontiers of dark matter and dark energy, critical to understanding the Cosmos but of indeterminate socio-economic promise. Harwit addresses these current challenges in view of competing national priorities and proposes alternative new approaches in search of the true Universe. In Search of the True Universe is an engaging read for astrophysicists, policy makers, historians, and sociologists of science looking to learn and apply lessons from the past in gaining deeper cosmological insight.


1. The nineteenth century's last five years

Part I. The Import of Theoretical Tools
2. An overview
3. Conclusions based on principles
4. Conclusions based on a premise
5. Conclusions based on calculations
6. Asking the right questions, accepting limited answers

Part II. A National Plan Shaping the Universe We Perceive
7. A new order and the new universe it produced
8. Where did the chemical elements arise?
9. Landscapes
10. The evolution of astrophysical theory after 1960
11. Turmoils of leadership
12. Cascades and shocks that shape astrophysics
13. Astrophysical discourse and persuasion

Part III. The Cost of Discerning the True Universe
14. Organization and functioning of the astronomical community
15. Language and astrophysical stability
16. An economically viable astronomical program


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Martin Harwit is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Cornell University. For many years he also served as Director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. For much of his astrophysical career he built instruments and made pioneering observations in infrared astronomy. His advanced textbook, Astrophysical Concepts, has taught several generations of astronomers through its four editions. Harwit has had an abiding interest in how science advances or is constrained by factors beyond the control of scientists. His book Cosmic Discovery first raised these questions. The present volume explores how philosophical outlook, historical precedents, industrial progress, economic factors, and national priorities have affected our understanding of the Cosmos. Harwit is a recipient of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's highest honor, the Bruce Medal, which commends "his original ideas, scholarship, and thoughtful advocacy."

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