The Classic, Beautiful and Controversial Books That Changed Science Forever


Without the work of intellectual giants like Einstein, Newton and Darwin, we might still be in the dark ages. But how many scientists still read the dust-ridden texts where these luminaries first expounded their theories? Thanks to the internet, you no longer have to hunt down these yellowing tomes in a moldy library vault. Here’s the story of 10 famous publications that spun the scientific world off its orbit. 

“On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres” by Nicolaus Copernicus, 1543

Contrary to what your dog may think, you’re not the center of the universe. Copernicus, a Polish merchant’s son, discovered that the sun is at the center of our solar system – the so-called heliocentric model – overturning the commonly accepted Earth-centric model introduced by Ptolemy in the 2nd Century A.D.

“It was setting in stone the process of critical thinking, that the whole world doesn’t revolve around us,” said astronomer Geoff Marcy of the University of California, Berkeley. Though Marcy and most astronomers haven’t read the entirety of Copernicus’s original text, it’s valuable for its historical interest, he said.

Copernicus waited until he was on his deathbed in 1543 to publish his work, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres), written in Latin.

It didn’t cause much of a fuss until Galileo took up the charge a century later.

Written By: Tanya Lewis
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    Without the work of intellectual giants like Einstein, Newton and Darwin, we might still be in the dark ages.

    Hardly. We weren’t in the dark ages when these three were born. Besides, usually when a scientist makes a  discovery, another scientist is breathing down their neck. Think of Wallace, even though his ideas weren’t as complete or eloquent as Darwin’s, natural selection would still have been proposed and (although it might have taken us a few more years to get there without Darwin) biologists would have eventually come up with the same results we have today.

    The real question is, how much farther advanced would we be if religion hadn’t hindered scientific progress?

  2.  “Contrary to what your dog may think, you’re not the center of the universe”

    Of course not, you just orbit the centre of his universe, his food bowl.

  3. Interesting question. Did Einstein really have anyone breathing down his neck? How about Maxwell? Newton? (Well, Leibniz perhaps inventing calculus, but that’s it). You may be right that most breakthroughs would have been achieved eventually. But some a bit later, others a lot later. And since scientific progress is a cumulative process, not having certain serendipituous visionary geniuses working on certain fields at certain times would mean centuries of delay in total. And thinking about what could have been, what about Hero of Alexandria, who almost invented the steam engine  2000 years ago? Had there been someone breathing down his neck, the extra step might have been taken.

    The sad intellectual inequality of human individuals is so great that I dare suggest that if the smartest 0,01 % of every generation of Homo Sapiens had somehow not existed, we’d be still living in caves.

     Did Einstein really have anyone breathing down his neck?

    Of course, any speculation as to when the Theories of Relativity would have been solidified without Einstein, would be mere guess work on my part. But I refer you to this article

    Note: I don’t know if my link will work with this new format, if not I’ll put it separate in another comment

  5. Profile photo of Cook@Tahiti [email protected] #7

    Darwin was, perhaps, only a decade ahead of his time. Newton and Einstein, maybe 20-30 years ahead of their time. Probably less. And they’re the big three. Other great scientists are probably only months or a few years ahead of the curve. 
    And think of how quickly later developments overtook them, so that the young radical becomes the old conservative… that’s particularly the case with Einstein who couldn’t cope with the implications of quantum mechanics in the 1920s.
    Yes, mordacious1 is right – the Dark Ages knocked out over 1000 years.

  6. I always cringe when I see the term “dark ages” thrown around like everybody knows what it means. Usually what is dark refers more to our lack of understanding than its lack of light. For the record, the western half of the Roman Empire fell in the 5th century (the East didn’t fall until 1453) and we in the West hold the conceit that all civilization was eclipsed for a thousand years.

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