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Bernard de Fontenelle on Extraterrestrial Life

RJO’s Reviews on Amazon.com

These brief book reviews have been posted to Amazon.com, and they may be viewed there in their original form either collectively (on my public reviews page) or individually (by following the link at each title below).

An Important and Appealing Work in the History of Science

Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds
Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle (H.A. Hargreaves, transl.)
University of California Press, 1990

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 engaging, 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.


© RJO 1995–2016