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Dava Sobel's Top Book Recommendations

Want to know what books Dava Sobel recommends on their reading list? We've researched interviews, social media posts, podcasts, and articles to build a comprehensive list of Dava Sobel's favorite book recommendations of all time.


The Sleepwalkers

A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe

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-view replaced the medieval world-view in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. He also provides vivid and judicious pen-portraits of a string of great scientists and makes clear the role that political bias... more
Recommended by Dava Sobel, Richard Cohen, and 2 others.

Dava SobelEven though this came out in the 1950s you still meet people who will talk about it. And for many it was the book that got them interested in astronomy. (Source)

Richard CohenThis classic work has had its share of critics, but as a history of early solar science, which for much of its length it becomes, it is hard to put down. (Source)

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This fascinating, scholarly study by one of the world's foremost authorities on Galileo offers a vivid portrait of one of history's greatest minds. Detailed accounts, including many excerpts from Galileo's own writings, offer insights into his work on motion, mechanics, hydraulics, strength of materials, and projectiles. 36 black-and-white illustrations.
Recommended by Dava Sobel, and 1 others.

Dava SobelThis examines Galileo’s day-to-day life. It is a close-up look at how he performed his experiments and how he worked with others to shape his ideas. (Source)

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Sidereus Nuncius, or The Sidereal Messenger

"This fine translation is a god-send. . . . Surely you want to read what Galileo wrote. If so buy this book. Van Helden's introduction is scholarly; no one knows more about Galileo's telescope; the translation is superb; Van Helden's review of the reception of the Sidereal Messenger is profound; the bibliography is extensive. What more can I say?"—David W. Hughes, The Observatory

"[Sidereus nunclus] has never before been made available in its entirety in a continuous form, with full notes and comment. The introduction, translation and notes by Van Helden are a...
Recommended by Dava Sobel, and 1 others.

Dava SobelThis is the moment that astronomy became an observational science. With his telescope Galileo was able to solve various longstanding mysteries. (Source)

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In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus publicly defended his hypothesis that the earth is a planet and the sun a body resting near the center of a finite universe. But why did Copernicus make this bold proposal? And why did it matter? The Copernican Question reframes this pivotal moment in the history of science, centering the story on a conflict over the credibility of astrology that erupted in Italy just as Copernicus arrived in 1496. Copernicus engendered enormous resistance when he sought to protect astrology by reconstituting its astronomical foundations. Robert S. Westman shows that... more
Recommended by Dava Sobel, and 1 others.

Dava SobelWestman was interested in the idea that Copernicus was an astrologer as well as an astronomer. I thought he made a convincing argument. (Source)

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In the spring of 1543 as the celebrated astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, lay on his death bed, his fellow clerics brought him a long-awaited package: the final printed pages of the book he had worked on for many years: De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). Though Copernicus would not live to hear of its extraordinary impact, his book, which first suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, was the center of the universe, is today recognized as one of the most influential scientific works of all time--thanks in part to astrophysicist Owen Gingerich.

Recommended by Dava Sobel, and 1 others.

Dava SobelGingerich writes about his own study of Copernicus’s On the Revolution. And he was able to prove that it was, in fact, an extremely important book. (Source)

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