Another Book by Carlo Rovelli: “Anaximander”

Dear Commons Community,

Earlier this summer, I read Helgoland:  Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution by Carlo Rovelli (see   Rovelli is a theoretical physicist, who has written several successful books on physics and quantum theory. I have been impressed with his writing style and his way of explaining scientific and mathematical concepts.  I have just finished reading, Anaximander, about the sixth-century BC Greek philosopher, who understood that the Earth floated in space;  that all animals came from the sea; and that natural (not supernatural) laws control change in the world.  Rovelli considers Anaximander the world’s first scientist, and uses him as the starting point of scientific thinking.

The original title of this book was, The First Scientist:  Anaximander and His Legacy in 2007.  The English translation entitled simply Anaxiimander was published in 2011.

I have to agree with one reviewer who commented that “on its face, it seems to be a historical study of the place of Anaximander in the development of modern science. And, for the first half of the book, it really is that. But from there, Rovelli takes off into a much more loosely bound discussion of truth, reality, relativism, religion, language, and the fate of the world.”

I was not at all familiar with Anaximander’s legacy and found Rovelli’s treatment illuminating.  At 181 pages plus notes, it is a quick read and written in a most accessible style.

If you are at all interested in Anaximander and his contributions, I recommend Rovelli’s book.

Below is a brief review that appeared in Publishers Weekly.


Publishers Weekly

The First Scientist: Anaximander and His Legacy

Carlo Rovelli, trans. from the French by Marion Lignana Rosenberg.

Rovelli (Quantum Gravity), a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Marseille, presents the scientific work and life of Anaximander, whom he ranks as “one of the intellectual giants of the ages.” Born in the Greek city of Miletus in 610 B.C.E., Anaximander investigated the nature of the physical universe, treating physical processes, such as the hydrological cycle and thunder, as separate from religion and the intervention of the gods, and recognizing that the earth floats in space. In Rovelli’s view, Anixmander was unique in questioning accepted hypotheses and results, such as the idea that the earth needed support to keep from falling. Rovelli sees a connection between the independence of mind that allowed Anixmander to pursue scientific investigation and the political freedom characteristic of the Ionian states that allowed discussion among equals. This fostered the search for truth through successive approximation and error, versus the “top down” modes of thought imposed in imperial states. This welcome addition to the popular science bookshelf, winner of the Prix du Livre Haute Maurienne de l’Astronomie, highlights the quality of thought which has shaped man’s institutions so profoundly over the millennia. (September 2011)

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