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The Day the Universe Changed: How Galileo's Telescope Changed the Truth

4.21  ·  Rating details ·  1,862 ratings  ·  89 reviews
In The Day the Universe Changed, James Burke examines eight periods in history when our view of the world shifted dramatically: in the eleventh century, when extraordinary discoveries were made by Spanish crusaders; in fourteenth-century Florence, where perspective in painting emerged; in the fifteenth century, when the advent of the printing press shook the foundations of ...more
Paperback, Revised Edition, 352 pages
Published September 1st 1995 by Back Bay Books (first published September 1st 1986)
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Douglas Bittinger
Apr 28, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely *love* this book. It may well be the only non-fiction book that I have ever said this about, but I found so much entertainment as well as a wealth of education in it that it deserves this banner. Mr Burke takes historically significant moments - some I knew about and some I didn't - and shows us just how these moments turned the entire Universe of knowledge on it's ear. Even if we didn't see it at the time. It is very thought provoking and really opened my eyes to the stodgy way we ...more
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
I believe this was the companion book to the wonderful PBS Series of the same title hosted by James Burke (in the 1980's). In it, he pinpoints pinnacle points in scientific history that changed the world as we know it (hopefully you weren't reading that last sentence aloud).

What I love most about this book is that Mr Burke understands that no Scientific "discovery" or theory actually drops from a tree like Newton's apple (no matter how tasty that apple is). He does a wonderful job rewinding from
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The book is a companion to the 1980s BBC series by James Burke, The Day The Universe Changed. Burke episodically walks us through some of the turning points in the development and educational evolution of man. The BBC series (shown on PBS in the 80's) is enlightening, provocative, and very entertaining. The book, however, is dry by comparison, and lacks Burke's personal entertaining style and wit.
You can see the BBC series on Youtube; you can also buy the DVD set for home TV viewing, about $100
Feb 03, 2013 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I didn't like this book because James Burke has a huge underlying bias: There is no real truth. I do agree with his idea that our perspective and beliefs shape the way we see the world, and that science and knowledge of the world influences how we see the world around us. Ironically, the reason I didn't like his book is his own bias against Christianity. Burke seems to portray the idea that since our understanding of the truth is always changing, we cannot rely on our beliefs and that there is n ...more
Allen McDonnell
Jul 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Even better than the video version

I purchased this volume because the BBC video portrayal hosted by the author was very influential on myself as an amateur historian. This volume takes great pains to show how over the course of history the way we view the structure of the Universal Reality has changed, again and again and yet again. What we think we know about the Universe is entirely dependent on our cultural belief structures. A young person from a strict religious community who goes off to un
May 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An absolute delight, and a must-have for anyone interested in history, science, or - most importantly - the history of science.

I remember James Burke best from childhood, watching “Tomorrow’s World”, with its tag-team of Baxter, Burke, and Rodd - a sort of genteel, boffin’s equivalent of “Top Gear”’s Clarkson, May, and Hammond. From there, Burke moved on to solo series in which he abstrusely connected different discoveries to show their impact on the modern world. Prior to now, though, I had not
kartik narayanan
May 05, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“The Day the Universe Changed” examines the history of science. James Burke talks us through various periods in our history starting from the 11th century on and shows us the evolution of science in various fields. These fields range from medicine to astronomy, relativity to natural history and so on.
The chapters/subjects covered are below.
The Way We Are: It Started with the Greeks
In the Light of the Above: Medieval Conflict – Faith & Reason
Point of View: Scientific Imagination in the Renaissanc
Jason X
Burke quickly covers a wide period of history, philosophy, religion, and science, hitting mostly highlights. Burke's closing summation is outstanding.

At the close, Burke ties everything together elegantly, leaving the reader with unanswered questions, but still satisfied. I especially connected with his observation that our current structures for explaining reality are limited by contemporary methods, truths, and instruments. That we all live a contemporary truth to be replaced is, to me, a fin
Mar 19, 2008 rated it really liked it
Burke is a very clear, concise and intelligent writer who carefully chooses the events he believes to be the most signal in changing our understanding of the way the universe works. He ends his book with the thesis that since all facts and information are filtered through the societal understanding of the people who look for and interpret them, truth itself is relative, and the way we understand the universe today is not necessarily the final say. In fact, history would suggest that another chan ...more
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Prolly as good as the 1985 Beeb production. Although the final line in the series trumps the book's.

Series: 'If the world is as we say it is... then say!'

It encapsulates the message perfectly.
"Primitive man believed that the heavens were ruled by frightful demons and spirits, and that a giant dragon devoured the moon each night. Medieval man, convinced by the ancient Egyptian astronomers, thought that the moon, sun, and the planets revolved around the earth. Today we believe that the universe is governed by fixed and discoverable physical laws. But what about the man of the future? How many of our 'scientific' principles will he scoff at and denounce as crude superstitions?

"In The Da
Sarah Bodaly
Jun 04, 2020 rated it liked it
I once had a teacher say there were two types of people: those who liked history, and those who liked science. I initially wasn’t so sure I agreed with that; I liked both history and science. But – I liked physical science – geology and anatomy and biology and astronomy… Physics and all of that theoretical stuff – nope. So – I’m a history person.
If you’re a science person, who likes a little history on the side, you will enjoy this book. If you’re a history person who likes a little science on
Jan 25, 2018 rated it it was ok
I cannot really tell what is the purpose of this book. If you are ignorant, you won't get any better understanding, besides few anecdotes served on some surreal plate, that will try convince you, that every discovery was just blind luck without any reason (in one place of the book it is even directly stated). If you already have basic knowledge of given subject, you won't get any better information.
It is just quick jumping on various discoveries with uneven attention (indexing is explained in d
Joseph Carrabis
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing
There is little doubt (to me) that James Burke is the God of How This Led To That. If you haven't seen or read Connections, add it to your must read/watch list as quickly as you can (and follow up by watching/reading). He followed up Connections with The Day the Universe Changed and it was an equally worthy read and watch.
I do not recommend Connections II and III. Marketing got involved (something Burke even mentioned in an interview).
But Connections and The Day the Universe Changed are excellen
Ashley Armstrong
I grew up watching James Burke's science programmes on TV in the 1970s and 1980s, and this series from 1984 I remember particularly well.
Since embarking on a study project of my own devise last year, into Renaissance art, culture and history, I recalled one of the programmes from the aforesaid series covering the geometry of linear perspective, and after reading a book about Brunelleschi and the construction of the octagonal dome of Florence cathedral, the pieces of memory fell fully into place.
Rob Mills
Apr 18, 2018 rated it liked it
I had just read Connections, so probably just a bit too much James Burke over a two month period. Very interesting stuff, as expected, and a fairly enjoyable read. The last chapter helps contextualise the point he's driving at and I sort of feel I should have read it first! A colleague told me this was a TV series, so perhaps if I had watched it at the same time I would have understood the overal idea a bit better and read more out of all the stories. Important arguments and well documented, imp ...more
D.L. Morrese
With the library closed (due to COVID-19), I'm going through my shelves and selecting various things to reread. This book came out near the top of the list mainly because it goes with the TV series, which I also rewatched. I'd rate the TV shows a solid 4.5 stars because good series about the progress of human understanding of the universe are rare. The book ranks a bit lower mainly because there are more good books on the subject.
Maynard Handley
Jul 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Nothing new here.

If you're unfamiliar with the history of science, I guess this is a fairly quick summary. But for anyone who knows anything about this material, there's nothing new here --- no original insights, no unexpected reframing of issues. A reasonable book to give to a friend who wants to know this material, but nothing more than that.
Neil Gordon
Jul 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Older science/ history but worth it

Great readable science/ history book about major events that changed thinking and reality. Was a PBS series, great read.....too awhile but great facts and understanding of the relationship of science,faith, discovery, knowledge and society....really like it
J.K. George
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2007-books
What a wonderful overview of scientific developments and discoveries that led the way to modern thinking about the Earth and the celestial bodies. A great choice for required reading by any high school student.
Glenda Osnach
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
We have this in hard cover, I'll have to re read. This was a fantastic BBC TV Series with the same name we watched in the '80's.
Todd Gilbert
Jun 10, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book absolutely changed the way I perceived the Universe and humanity. One of the top three most influential books in my life.
Andrey Voev
Mar 15, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great overview and insights

The only issue I've had with this book is that sometimes gets hard to read, and it seems convoluted.

Great content and conclusions though, I loved it.
Feb 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: history
That which we believed to be real, was real - until it wasn't.
Marcos Alves
Jul 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Excellent book with too much detail on some parts, nevertheless very enjoyable!
Sep 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
The Day the Universe Changed: A Personal View by James Burke was originally a British documentary television series written and presented by science historian James Burke. Subsequently there was a book version published. The primary focus of which is on the effect of advances in science and technology on western society in its philosophical aspects.

The title comes from the philosophical idea that the universe essentially only exists as one perceives it through what one knows; therefore, if one c
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
History is not defined by the things that happen; it is defined by what causes things to happen. The book, The Day the Universe Changed, by James Burke, explores those moments of change, that have occurred throughout history. Most of the changes examined by the author, at first glance, seem out of place, and even irrelevant. However, every change discussed in this book is part of a bigger picture: their presence in our modern world. This book explains that although our world is incredibly differ ...more
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Based on his TV series of the same name from the mid-1980s. It’s about the fundamental changes that have occurred in our understanding of how the world works, and the ways in which society has been changed as a result. Burke’s great gift is for connecting things (which is why I guess he called his later TV series Connections!) and I particularly like the way he weaves scientific and cultural change together in his accounts of the birth of modern medicine and the birth of modern geology and evolu ...more
Sep 30, 2015 rated it liked it
A good read, and is right in line with what I was hoping for.

The book itself is a history of science, and looks at various moments in history when some event either shaped subsequent history, or how larger changes came about.

For example, there's a section on medicine and physicians. Initially, physicians are highly educated experts who horde their private knowledge of remedies, and have limited to no accountability for their talent in treating various diseases and ailments. Fast forward to a cou
Janet Zehr
Apr 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
James Burke has a view of history as a web of discoveries rather than a linear progression. This book follows that pattern. He takes us from the dark ages all the way to today. Progress is very limited at first, as people are isolated after the fall of the Roman Empire. There is no exchange of knowledge, and the Bible is the authority for belief in nature. Most people cannot read, so hearsay is how they obtain information.
Gradually, there is more interchange of information as one after another,
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Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the GoodReads database with this name.

James Burke is a Northern Irish science historian, author and television producer best known for his documentary television series called Connections, focusing on the history of science and technology leavened with a sense of humour.

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