The Grand Contraption tells the story of humanity's attempts through 4,000 years of written history to make sense of the world in its cosmic totality, to understand its physical nature, and to know its real and imagined inhabitants. No other book has provided as coherent, compelling, and learned a narrative on this subject of subjects. David Park takes us on an incredible journey that illuminates the multitude of elaborate "contraptions" by which humans in the Western world have imagined the earth they inhabit--and what lies beyond. Intertwining history, religion, philosophy, literature, and the physical sciences, this eminently readable book is, ultimately, about the "grand contraption" we've constructed through the ages in an effort to understand and identify with the universe.
According to Park, people long ago conceived of our world as a great rock slab inhabited by gods, devils, and people and crowned by stars. Thinkers imagined ether to fill the empty space, and in the comforting certainty of celestial movement they discerned numbers, and in numbers, order. Separate sections of the book tell the fascinating stories of measuring and mapping the Earth and Heavens, and later, the scientific exploration of the universe.
The journey reveals many common threads stretching from ancient Mesopotamians and Greeks to peoples of today. For example, humans have tended to imagine Earth and Sky as living creatures. Not true, say science-savvy moderns. But truth isn't always the point. The point, says Park, is that Earth is indeed the fragile bubble we surmise, and we must treat it with the reverence it deserves.
"Through flood myths and daimones (guardian angels), and the interplay of the elements--earth, air, fire and water--Park lovingly charts the history of how we imagines Earth and out place in its surroundings."--Paul Nettleton, The Guardian
"Bring Homer and Einstein, Aristotle and Columbus into one timeless room (with translators), and their conversation would likely turn to the themes of this astonishingly capacious history of cosmology. . . . An exhilarating intellectual adventure."--Booklist
"In this comprehensive and fascinating book, Park reviews how theologians, philosophers, and mathematicians have attempted to explain subjects ranging from the creation of life to the nature of matter and the structure of the universe. . . . Park gives a comprehensive and readable overview of the 'grand contraption' that is the universe."--Science News
"The Grand Contraption is a masterful presentation of the long timelines in the history of cosmology. It is a remarkable book on the development of the worldview from chaos to cosmos, and from the most ancient cultures to modern time."--Helge Kragh, Physics Today
"There is no practical way, of course, to pack all human understanding into a single volume, and Park doesn't try. Instead, he traces our evolving lines of reasoning, at least those emerging in the Western world, from early myth through the emergence of modern philosophy to the establishment of scientific method. . . . From person to person, period to period, Park threads together how myths were jettisoned for fact, how fact turned out to be more fabulous than myth."--Scott LaFee, San Diego Union-Tribune
"[A] well-written history of human thought."--Herbert E. Kasube, MathDL
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by David Park: