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The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe

4.23  ·  Rating Details ·  648 Ratings  ·  70 Reviews
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- ...more
Paperback, 624 pages
Published June 5th 1990 by Arkana/Penguin (first published 1959)
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Hung Tran Plato is obssessed with the idea that everything can be constructed from the above, by centralization and theorization. For example, Platonist always…morePlato is obssessed with the idea that everything can be constructed from the above, by centralization and theorization. For example, Platonist always argue that most of inventions are directly instructed by the Government; however, the book has proved the opposite, those inventions were found by chance.(less)

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Jul 09, 2012 Manny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People seriously interested in the history of science
Koestler's book presents a rather good history of cosmology from ancient times until the late 17th century. There are four main sections, respectively devoted to the classical world-view (i.e. before the 15th century), Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, and in each one I was surprised to see just how ignorant I was.

In the first section, I had not appreciated to what extent scientific progress can go backwards as well as forwards. Koestler describes the Pythagorean school - like Penrose, a modern d
Sep 10, 2014 Nick rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I've never managed to get into Darkness At Noon. Poeple give it to me and they say "ooooh" and "you must" and "you'll love" and maybe one day I will, but so far I haven't. And that annoys me on some level because everywhere I go I run into Koestler references. It's in V for Vendetta, it's everywhere in the kind of books I enjoy reading. Plus, on the face of it, it's a book I really should enjoy. I completely see why everyone expects me to have read it or to flip out when I do.

But I don't.


Feb 07, 2010 Szplug rated it really liked it
Koestler brings a true passion to his cosmographical history, detailing man's theorizations and beliefs on the nature of the universe from ancient Mesopotamia through to the enforced recantation by Galileo of his heliocentric confirmations and the synthesis of his predecessor's pioneering work by Newton to establish the basis of modern science.

Though all of his in-depth portrayals of the principal Renaissance cosmographic entrepreneurs - Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo - are delightful and inf
Feb 07, 2013 Tim rated it it was amazing
Throughout this highly detailed work by Koestler there is a pendulum swing that might be said to center on a balanced integration of the mystical with the rational. From a certain perspective, we could say that the force which causes the pendulum to swing is human free will and the ability we have to view the world from numerous perspectives. Yet the decisions coming out of free will can be heavily influenced by larger forces: "the cosmology of a given age is not the result of a unilinear, 'scie ...more
A heavy subject, but very interesting. A mixture of history, cosmology/astronomy, and physics. I never was good at physics back in school, due to whatever reason (mainly the way the teachers explained it, I guess). Astronomy was an interest of mine, but without all the mathematics and what not. History, too, but again, circumstances weren't always favourable. Or, in other words, once out of school, I became more interested in certain subjects at which I wasn't always successful in school.

In any
Dec 28, 2015 Erik rated it really liked it
Great on Kepler and the Galileo trial, far too light on ancients and Newton. Kepler's difficult path to the three laws is detailed in full, especially the breakthrough to the first law which is not often described elsewhere. Galileo's opponents were not the nitwits we believed them to be. But ancient science was a much more interesting phenomenon than Koestler realizes. He mouths the same old criticisms of Plato and Aristotle, essentially blaming them for the beliefs of their later followers. In ...more
This is wonderfully readable and interesting account of the history of astronomy, and to some extent cosmology, up to and including Newton. Of particular interest are the biographical sketches of Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, and Kepler.
Jul 03, 2007 Ali rated it liked it
I would devide my life to before and after reading Koestler. Reading Koestler for the first time, just released, Koestler changed me to a totally different person. He was a man of a generation who witnessed final disaster of civil war in Spain and descending and demolishing of hope by communism in Soviet, while confronting the invasion of Fashism in Europe. He explained his generation’s pain and frustration as a most brave looser, not sophisticated but very simple. The best description of the ti ...more
Esteban del Mal
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 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 wo
Michael Cayley
Sep 19, 2013 Michael Cayley rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
An extremely readable account of the history of some key developments in human understanding of the universe. This is a book I read a long time ago, but which has stayed vividly in my memory.
Peter Mcloughlin
Very detailed history of early and medieval Cosmologies and the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries. The story takes through the Ptolemaic system of the ancients and its overthrow which culminating in Newton. The characters are less the science icons than medieval scholars slowly sleepwalking into modernity. These were magi not moderns. Playing with ideas of the ancients and fiddling with the Ptolemaic system playfully here and there. Their rearrangements would be looked at by t ...more
May 25, 2012 Ahsan rated it it was amazing
Sir Isaac Newton said, "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants." The Sleepwalkers is about those giants: the brilliant Johannes Kepler, the secretive Copernicus and the egoistic Galileo. It is also about the pygmies and giants who came before them and a grand history of cosmology, from a time when science and religion had not yet been separated.

Arthur Koestler illustrates how science has been reliant on the individual prejudices, whims and brilliance of individual pe
I think I read 2 of Koestler's bks. This must've been one of them b/c I remember the subject matter but I reckon it's possible that there's another Koestler bk w/ a long section on Kepler (as this one has). Anyway, in some respects, this must've been an important bk to me b/c it wd've been one of the 1st I wd've read on 'heretics' - ie: people persecuted by Christian Gangstas for having a mind & using it for something other than Christian hegemony. Alas, this is the only bk I've read in my a ...more
Jul 26, 2008 Arwen rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone wanting to brush up on science history
Recommended to Arwen by: college professor "recommended" (aka required)
I'd forgotten how much I liked this's old-fashioned criticism at its best, intensely readable and deeply humanist. While I don't think it's a "provocative" book any more (as Sir Bernard Lovell claimed 40 years ago), it's a wonderful re-tangling of the humanities and sciences and a great way to get a quick understanding of how the major scientific discoveries of the last few millennia unfolded as well as a sense for the scientists and movements that made them.
Thomas A Wiebe
Sep 13, 2013 Thomas A Wiebe rated it really liked it
 Sleepwalking amid new ideas.  Arthur Koestler was a lesser known, but nonetheless brilliant, 20th century literary phenomenon, at ease equally with politics, philosophy, literature and science, and his breadth informs this capable history of early modern cosmology. His account emphasizes the intellectual confusion that necessarily accompanies new ideas. As Koestler describes it, these cosmologists of the 16th and 17th centuries did not fully recognize what they had found, or valued their discov ...more
Jun 06, 2013 Tlaura rated it really liked it
Totally addictive introduction to the history of cosmology. A must read if you care about this stuff. A few criticisms: occasionally the work (which started as a straight-up Kepler biography and was then expanded) seems a bit patched together to the point where the great-men-of-history overshadow everything and are presented without enough era-specific context for the lay reader (like me). Also, Koestler downplays the Newtonian synthesis... in particular: what did Newton--of whom the common view ...more
Alan Wightman
Jan 04, 2013 Alan Wightman rated it really liked it
The book maps out the advances in astronomical thought, from the walled-in earth-centred universe of antiquity to the modern solar system. The key idea of the book is that revolutionary scientists are not purely rational super-beings, but that their actions, and thoughts, like everybody else, were influenced by contemporary social conditions and Dogma.

Koestler's findings that I found notable included:

Astronomy began simply as sky-geometry, it was not until Kepler that someone attempted to appor
Mark Bowles

Man has always existed under the heavens, and man has always had a tendency to dream and gaze wondrously at the countless nighttime points of light. The intention of Arthur Koestler's The Sleepwalkers is to provide a comprehensive survey of man's ideas about the universe which encompasses him. The beginning of this journey starts in Babylonia and ends with Newton. In between is not a continuous stream of cosmological evolution, but a rapid, initial
Alan Clark
Jan 27, 2013 Alan Clark rated it really liked it
The five parts of this book interested me to varying degrees.

Part 1 deals with the ancient Greeks and their strange ideas. This was okay,but no more.

In Part 2 the character covers the following 16 centuries when science made no progress, and even went backwards. I found this rather more interesting.

The emphasis now shifts from the evolution of ideas to the individuals responsible for it, beginning in Part 3 with Copernicus.

Part 4 is the largest section and deals principally with Kepler, but als
Rob Shurmer
Oct 24, 2009 Rob Shurmer rated it it was ok
I take issue with some of the sources Koestler used here, most of which are secondary sources. And quoting from Encyclopedia Britannica is no way to earn accolades from critical historians. Also, long-winded and detailed passages concerning the movements and eating habits of his scientist-heros fail to add anything significant to Koestler's arguments. WE get, for example, over 20 pages describing the hand-off of Copurnicus' manuscript 'Book of Revolutions' to his protege Rheticus, and another 10 ...more
Jan 21, 2017 Carter rated it it was amazing
Arthur Koestler combines impressive scholarship and beautiful prose with a generous helping of metaphysical and psychological insight to present a captivating retelling of 'our changing vision of the universe.' It is a fantastic history of science, spanning Babylonian mystical speculation to the Newtonian synthesis.

It would be a mistake to treat this book merely as a history of science, however. It ends up being a sort of verbal tapestry of the human imagination - woven from the threads of scien
A. J. McMahon
Aug 23, 2015 A. J. McMahon rated it it was amazing
This is a deeply flawed, highly readable, profoundly informative account of the history of cosmology. Koestler starts from the earliest accounts of humankind's attempt to explain the universe in which we live, such as the Sumerians and Babylonians, and goes on to the Middle Ages, where there is a fascinating portrayal of Kepler and his achievements, and then on to the modern era.

The flaws of Koestler's approach have to do with the largely science-centric approach he takes. The belief in the zodi
Stephan Frank
Apr 16, 2015 Stephan Frank rated it it was amazing
For a book on a topic dear to my heart written almost 6 decades ago, this gem of Arthur Koestler is probably almost as enjoyable as it has ever been.

Admitting readily that I have picked up this classic mostly for the purpose of preparing for teaching a class, I am nonetheless stunned by the skills of Koestler to vividly capture the mindsets of the key players involved.
Particularly the descriptions of the "Heroic" Greek Period, and the struggles of Johannes Kepler trying to finally find the "Harm
Annie Weatherly-Barton
Jul 05, 2013 Annie Weatherly-Barton rated it it was amazing
If you need a book that will give you an overview of science and philosophy over time then this is probably the one to get. For those trying to get their teeth into this field of study, Koestler will give you a kick start. He starts with how the Babylonians viewed the world in which they lived and the Egyptians and then moves on to the Greeks - the foundation of our philosophy and science and how our view of the world changes quite dramatically from pre and Greek geocentric world to the heliocen ...more
Celeste Chia
Sep 17, 2016 Celeste Chia rated it really liked it
A philosophy professor recommended this book, and it accompanied me on my days in Paris and insomniac nights in Singapore. His revelations were eye opening: Copernicus' personality, Kepler's charming idiosyncrasies I can identify with, Galileo's intransigence... Debunking the popular narratives tracing the development of cosmology. While I'm not a big fan of his writing style - though he aims to simplify the language for layman readers like myself - I don't deny he writes descriptively and lyric ...more
Joseph Voelbel
Jul 12, 2015 Joseph Voelbel rated it really liked it
This book, a detour from what was originally conceived of as a chapter, serves as a rational overview to the history of man's alternating conception of the universe. Basically it is three biographies: Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo. In addition to showing how these men came to their conclusions that shaped the world, we find in their discoveries a sense of the marvelous and stupid.

"The revolutions of thought which shape the basic outlook of an age are not disseminated through text books - they
Sep 27, 2009 Gerald rated it it was amazing
Koestler surveys the history of astronomy and concludes that most of what the great thinkers believed was superstitious and wrong. For example, it took the genius of Sir Isaac Newton to find just three incredibly useful planetary laws in the volumes Johannes Kepler had written on the spiritual "music of the spheres." Then it took Maxwell and others, including Einstein, to extract the useful parts of Newtonian physics and mathematics from his wild musings.

Hence the title. Many of our greatest dis
Aug 30, 2007 Ian rated it liked it
"...Gravity, to Copernicus, is the nostalgia of things to become spheres."

A good, excellently sourced and researched, and ocassionaly poetic general introduction to the course of Renaissance astronomy from Copernicus through Kepler to Galileo (and a touch of Newton), but Koestler's moral attitudes towards mid-20th century science, his motives (the fact that often scientists have been wrong in both method and conclusion should justify the legitimacy of paranormal research), and his willingness t
Robert Munnings
Oct 29, 2015 Robert Munnings rated it it was amazing
Great book which opens your mind to the amazing progress of people's unfolding and growing understanding of the world around them. The author has a huge vocabulary which kept me frequently reaching for my dictionary and encouraging me to follow up on his references and recommendations for further reading. One of the best books I have ever read. The discussion of Galileo and the Catholic church was fascinating as it revealed a different perspective in which personality and temperament played as m ...more
Feb 12, 2009 James rated it it was amazing
This was one of my favorites when I studied the History of Science under the tutelage of Prof. David Lindberg at the University of Wisconsin. Koestler's discussion of Kepler is my favorite section as it is the focal point for the spread of the Copernican world-view. With the astronomical data of Tycho Brahe and the advances made by Galileo the world of astronomy was changed forever. Koestler's book covers far more but this episode in the history of science is the epitome of scientific advancemen ...more
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Arthur Koestler CBE [*Kösztler Artúr] was a prolific writer of essays, novels and autobiographies.

He was born into a Hungarian Jewish family in Budapest but, apart from his early school years, was educated in Austria. His early career was in journalism. In 1931 he joined the Communist Party of Germany but, disillusioned, he resigned from it in 1938 and in 1940 published a devastating anti-Communis
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“Some of the greatest discoveries...consist mainly in the clearing away of psychological roadblocks which obstruct the approach to reality; which is why,post factum they appear so obvious.” 8 likes
“Much depends on asking the right question at the right time.” 1 likes
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