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In Search of the True Universe
The Tools, Shaping, and Cost of Cosmological Thought

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  • Date Published: November 2013
  • availability: In stock
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107044067

$ 34.99 (G)

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About the Authors
  • Astrophysicist and scholar Martin Harwit examines how our understanding of the Cosmos advanced rapidly during the twentieth century and identifies the factors contributing to this progress. Astronomy, whose tools were largely imported from physics and engineering, benefited mid-century from the U.S. policy of coupling basic research with practical national priorities. This strategy, initially developed for military and industrial purposes, provided astronomy with powerful tools yielding access – at virtually no cost – to radio, infrared, X-ray, and gamma-ray observations. Today, astronomers are investigating the new frontiers of dark matter and dark energy, critical to understanding the Cosmos but of indeterminate socio-economic promise. Harwit addresses these current challenges in view of competing national priorities and proposes alternative new approaches in search of the true Universe. This is an engaging read for astrophysicists, policy makers, historians, and sociologists of science looking to learn and apply lessons from the past in gaining deeper cosmological insight.

    • Shows how the quest to understand the universe evolved from a personal way of conducting research to a governmentally-shaped enterprise
    • Demonstrates how progress in astronomy and related fields has been linked to national priorities, helping researchers to set realistic goals
    • Proposes the future shape of astronomical research funding through voluntary and communal sources
    • Links the development of astronomy's most powerful tools to their military and industrial origins
    Read more


    • Winner of the 2013 Association of American Publishers PROSE Award in Cosmology and Astronomy

    Reviews & endorsements

    "A fascinating and scholarly personal take on the explosive development of astrophysics and cosmology in the twentieth century that connects the untidy nature of scientific discovery to the economic, social, and political context in which it took place. In Search of the True Universe will enlighten and stimulate scientific historians, sociologists and, especially, professional astronomers and physicists striving to plot the best course for the field in the twenty-first century."
    Professor Roger Blandford, KIPAC and Stanford University

    "Refreshing wisdom and insight concerning the status and future of cosmology from one of its most broadly experienced and thoughtful practitioners. Martin Harwit entertainingly frames the challenges and opportunities facing twenty-first-century astronomy and astrophysics in the context of historical scientific knowledge, organizational behavior, personalities, leadership, policy, and increasingly constrained economic environments. Important insight for those considering working in this area and an essential read for those already engaged."
    Dr Frank Martin, former Director of Astrophysics, NASA

    "Martin Harwit’s penetrating analysis of the progress and problems of modern astronomy and astrophysics is refreshingly original. The astronomical sciences have advanced tremendously during the twentieth century but are currently faced by challenges that cannot be answered by means of traditional tools and methods. As Harwit points out – and illustrates by carefully examined historical case studies – the tools available to us in any given period shape the way we conceive the world. While new tools are essential for further progress in the search of the 'true universe', they need to be coordinated with new forms of the societal forces that so thoroughly influence science. Harwit’s book is not only a fascinating description of major advances in astrophysics, it also uses history to offer proposals for the future, both when it comes to the tools and the organization of astronomical research."
    Professor Helge Kragh, Aarhus University, Denmark

    "I recommend In Search of the True Universe on several levels: it provides great insights into the history of some important astronomical discoveries; it provides great insights into the process of scientific discovery; and it provides great insights into the process of guiding and funding scientific research."
    American Journal of Physics

    "In Search of the True Universe throws a clear and needed spotlight on the complexities of conducting science in a political world and within the funding framework of Western Society … the book ought to be read by every student and professor of science … Harwit has captured the recent past to allow us to reflect on how we might do better in the future."
    Physics Today

    "The book is well written, presents some familiar themes in a new light as well as some ideas which will be new to many readers, and allows the reader a glimpse behind the scenes which only Harwit could provide … I recommend the book to all interested in the sociology and politics of science or the last hundred years of astrophysics."
    The Observatory

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2013
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107044067
    • length: 408 pages
    • dimensions: 262 x 185 x 22 mm
    • weight: 1kg
    • contains: 61 b/w illus. 4 tables
    • availability: In stock
  • Table of Contents

    1. The nineteenth century's last five years
    Part I. The Import of Theoretical Tools:
    2. An overview
    3. Conclusions based on principles
    4. Conclusions based on a premise
    5. Conclusions based on calculations
    6. Asking the right questions, accepting limited answers
    Part II. A National Plan Shaping the Universe We Perceive:
    7. A new order and the new universe it produced
    8. Where did the chemical elements arise?
    9. Landscapes
    10. The evolution of astrophysical theory after 1960
    11. Turmoils of leadership
    12. Cascades and shocks that shape astrophysics
    13. Astrophysical discourse and persuasion
    Part III. The Cost of Discerning the True Universe:
    14. Organization and functioning of the astronomical community
    15. Language and astrophysical stability
    16. An economically viable astronomical program

  • Author

    Martin Harwit, Cornell University, New York
    Martin Harwit is Professor Emeritus of Astronomy at Cornell University. For many years he also served as Director of the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC. For much of his astrophysical career he built instruments and made pioneering observations in infrared astronomy. His advanced textbook, Astrophysical Concepts, has taught several generations of astronomers through its four editions. Harwit has had an abiding interest in how science advances or is constrained by factors beyond the control of scientists. His book Cosmic Discovery first raised these questions. The present volume explores how philosophical outlook, historical precedents, industrial progress, economic factors, and national priorities have affected our understanding of the cosmos. Harwit is a recipient of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific's highest honor, the Bruce Medal, which commends 'his original ideas, scholarship, and thoughtful advocacy'.


    • Winner of the 2013 Association of American Publishers PROSE Award in Cosmology and Astronomy

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