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Book reviews for "Fontenelle,_Bernard_Le_Bovier_de" sorted by average review score:

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Published in Paperback by University of California Press (1990)
Authors: Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle, Bernard Le Bovier De Fontenelle, H. A. Hargreaves, and Fontenelle
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A landmark in scientific thought
Fontenelle's little treatise is an engaging exposition of the scientific thought of his day, delivered most tactfully in the face of certain persecution. Not only does he create a tract on astronomy; he has produced a fine work of literature and a statement on gender equity in a time where such ideas were unheard of.

The Cartesian method of systematic doubt underlies Fontenelle's inquiry. He emphasizes the importance of half-believing and half-disbelieving each conjecture he makes about the cosmos. While the Marquise (and perhaps the reader) may find this maddening at times, it is a remarkable departure from the proselytizing literature of the time which regarded its conclusions as incontrovertible, and indeed, natural.

This doubt-and one could say, ambivalence-is just one of the escape clauses that Fontenelle builds into his case. The second is that the most heretical statements come out of the Marquise's mouth, making them the dialogue of a fictional character rather than the very real Fontenelle. Though it is a slim text, Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds can at times be ponderously slow. My patience was tested when the author departed from the exposition in favor of flirting with the Marquise. It may have been charming at the time, but I have better things to do. The systematic doubt can also postpone arriving at a conclusion that, in our time, is terribly obvious. Nevertheless, it is a brisk and enjoyable read, the work of a true master, and an important battle fought in the scientific revolution.

An important and appealing work in the history of science
We in our modern age are accustomed to thinking about topics such as space travel, life on other worlds, Martian meteorites, and all manner of other modern scientific ideas. This charming translation of a charming and important work in the history of science shows us that our ideas may not be quite as modern as we think they are.

First published in 1686 (that's right, 1686), Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds discusses how the stars in the night sky are other solar systems, probably with planets and people of their own, and that we may visit them, or they us, one day. What makes the work so charming, and of lasting literary as well as scientific value, is that it is written as a dialogue between a philosopher and a lady as they spend several evenings walking together in the lady's garden. "What if," asks the philosopher, the travelers from other worlds "were skillful enough to navigate on the outer surface of our air, and from there, through their curiosity to see us, they angled for us like fish? Would that please you?" "Why not?" the lady replies, "I'd put my myself into their nets of my own volition just to have the pleasure of seeing those who caught me."

If you have any interest in the history of science, or science fiction, or astronomy and space travel, you will enjoy this volume.

Fabulous read
I read this book for a class I was taking over the history of scientific thought and dreaded it due to the bland nature of the other works the class had looked at. I was proved very pleasantly surprised, though. Wonderfully written and very sweet, this book is surprisingly forward thinking in many of it predictions for our modern knowledge of the cosmos. The romance added in with the scientific discussions adds a wonderful touch, as do the insightful comments into the human experience and psyche.

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