Excerpts

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When the astronaut Neil Armstrong took that momentous first step onto the moon in 1969, he declared that it was “one giant leap for mankind.” But before humankind could leap, we had to walk. That happened in 1609, when Galileo fashioned a spyglass, trained it toward the heavens, and started taking notes.

Galileo looked through that telescope night after night, took notes on what he saw, and deduced that the earth must be in motion around the sun. Which meant that the earth was not, after all, at the center of the universe.

Piping Plover illustration by Mary Bowmar Richmond

He published his findings in 1610, in a little book called The Starry Messenger (Sidereus nuncius in Latin). What he wrote was not just theory, but observation. What’s more, Galileo wrote so that readers could clearly understand what he saw through that newfangled telescope of his. There had never been a book like it. At first, those that mattered thought the book was well worth reading—even though Galileo was questioning the world view of the ancients as well as Rome. Then all hell broke loose.

Quahog and clams illustration by Mary Bowmar Richmond
Sea jellies illustration by Mary Bowmar Richmond
Scrub oak illustration by Mary Bowmar Richmond

In the Levenger Press book Galileo: The Starry Messenger, ‘From Doubt to Astonishment,’ readers can see exactly what Galileo wrote. The book contains a true-color, true-size facsimile from the edition of the book that the Library of Congress owns. It is one of the few copies in the world whose pages have not been thoughtlessly trimmed. Along with Galileo’s original words is a translation that’s presented so readers can easily match up the Latin with the English. But history needs context to be truly appreciated. And so in this Levenger Press edition, six of the world’s great Galileo scholars weigh in on why Galileo’s little book was such a major upheaval of the conventional wisdom in Galileo’s day…and why copies of The Starry Messenger can still cause a clamor today. Here are excerpts from each of the scholars’ essays contained in the book:


Galileo’s book was incredibly successful in simply getting people to look at the heavens. It generated excitement and interest, and Galileo’s rhetorical skill…guided the observations of his readers. Galileo led his audience to see the moon, if not its mountains, in a new way.

-David Marshall Miller

Galileo’s method of presentation and representation of his results opened up a new way to look at nature, and forced scholars of the period to begin to re-theorize the place of mathematics, the role of instruments such as the telescope, and the form of logic employed in scientific discovery….What Galileo concluded by peering through his telescope was nothing short of a revolution in our conception of the nature of the universe.

- John W. Hessler

…trumpets were common in the pageantry of early modern Venice, where the length—three to four feet—corresponds closely to that of Galileo’s extant instrument, and it is worth noting that a Medici dispatch of May 1610 complained of the difficulty of sending telescopes “as long as trumpets” to Prague.

-Eileen Reeves

The story of Galileo does not end with his death in 1642. It carries on from his lifetime to the present day. His influence is widely felt across the intervening ages….In 1810 Napoleon, after conquering large parts of Italy, removed the Vatican archives to Paris. He had planned to publish the original proceedings of the Galileo trial to further his political ambitions against the Vatican. Following his downfall in 1814 about two-thirds of the archives were destroyed or sold to cardboard manufacturers.

- Peter Machamer

The Starry Messenger’s pioneering and influential message is quite enough to place it in any serious list of the top ten astronomy titles of all time. As a physical object, it is the most intriguing and revealing book in the history of science.

-Owen Gingerich

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