Contrary to popular belief, fostered in countless school classrooms the world over, Christopher Columbus did not discover that the world was round. The idea of the world as a sphere had been widely accepted in scientific, philosophical and even religious circles from as early as the fourth century bc. Bizarrely, it was not until the supposedly more rational nineteenth century that the notion that the world might actually be flat really took hold. Even more bizarrely, it persists to this day. Based on a range of original sources, Garwood's history of flat-earth beliefs - from the Babylonians to the present day - raises issues central to the history and philosophy of science, its relationship with religion and the making of human knowledge about the natural world. Flat Earth is the first definitive study of one of history's most notorious and persistent ideas, and evokes all the intellectual, philosophical and spiritual turmoil of the modern age.
'Highly entertaining and often hilarious ... an enjoyable romp through the dottier history of scientific and religious eccentricity' Sunday Times
'This entertaining history of the Flat Earth movement is full of crazy characters and fascinating details' Daily Telegraph
'Wonderful ... an intriguing chronicle of 150 years of self- delusion' Financial Times
Garwood, historian of science at the Open University in England, presents a thoroughly enjoyable first book. Examining the belief that the world is flat from a wide array of perspectives, she makes some important points. She demonstrates quite convincingly, for example, that, contrary to what most people believe, the ancients knew the world was not flat: "the earth has been widely believed to be a globe since the fifth century B.C." Only in the 19th century did acceptance of a flat earth spread, promoted largely by biblical literalists. Garwood does an impressive job of comparing those flat-earthers with modern-day creationists. She also makes the case that it's all but impossible to argue effectively with true believers. Modern believers assert that the space program is a hoax. In 1994, on the 25th anniversary of the first manned landing on the moon, a Washington Post poll estimated that approximately 20 million Americans thought the landing was staged on Earth, underscoring that some outrageous beliefs still hold sway. Garwood is respectful throughout, analyzing the philosophical underpinnings of those who have doubted, and continue to doubt, the Earth's rotundity.