Walking Zero: Discovering Cosmic Space and Time along the Prime Meridian

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Overview

Noted science writer Chet Raymo explores how we found our place in space and time, and what it has meant to humankind.

In Walking Zero, Chet Raymo uses the Prime Meridian—the line of zero longitude and the standard for all the world's maps and clocks—to tell the story of humandkind's intellectual journey from a cosmos not much larger than ourselves to the universe of the galaxies and geologic eons.

As in his highly praised The Path and Climbing Brandon, Raymo connects personally with the story by walking England's Prime Meridian from Brighton through Greenwich to the North Sea. The Prime Meridian passes near a surprising number of landmarks that loom large in science: Isaac Newton's chambers at Trinity College, Cambridge; Charles Darwin's home at Down, in Kent; the site where the first dinosaur fossils were discovered; and John Harrison's clocks in a museum room of the Royal Observatory, among many others. Visiting them in turn, Raymo brings to life the human dramas of courageous individuals who bucked reigning orthodoxies to expand our horizons, including one brave rebel who paid the ultimate price for surmising the multitude of worlds we now take for granted.

A splendid short history of astronomy and geology, Walking Zero illuminates the startling interplay of science, psychology, faith, and the arts in our understanding of space and time.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The latest from noted science writer Raymo (An Intimate Look at the Night Sky) isn't merely a history of the prime meridian, the zero-longitude line passing through eastern England that is the starting point for measuring both space and time on Earth. Roughly speaking, Raymo is interested in how we understand our place in the cosmos, and his walk along the prime meridian is a meditation on the evolving ways that humans have measured and understood space and time, stopping here and there at some of the most prominent landmarks in the history of science. The slender volume covers an astonishing amount of ground, ranging from the astronomers of ancient Alexandria to the fellows of the British Royal Society, from Piltdown Man to contemporary debates over relativism and scientific knowledge. The result is an unexpected combination of popular history, travelogue and intellectual memoir, as meandering and invigorating as a brisk country walk, and while there is little here that hasn't been recounted elsewhere, the real joy is in the journey-one could hardly ask for a better travel companion than Raymo, a professor emeritus of physics and astronomy whose prose is delightfully erudite and introspective. 25 b&w illus., 1 map. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Raymo (physics & astronomy, emeritus, Stonehill Coll., MA; An Intimate Look at the Night Sky) takes us on a walking tour of the prime meridian, which cuts across England from the Channel to the North Sea. Along the way, he pauses in the vicinity of the homes of scientists of historical significance and sites of momentous scientific discoveries or inventions. As he hikes along this most important of longitudes, he weaves together the story of human scientific intuition, insight, and invention spanning thousands of years, even to the history of the universe! This is quite an achievement in fewer than 200 miles and an equivalent number of pages. Raymo's presentation on the history of science tied to physical landmarks along the prime meridian creates an enchanting perspective on a well-exposed topic. An excellent read for anyone interested in science, history, and hiking the English countryside, it is appropriate for high school, public, and general academic libraries.-Margaret F. Dominy, Drexel Univ. Lib., Philadelphia Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A brief history of science, in the context of a walking tour along the Greenwich meridian. Raymo (Climbing Brandon, 2004), an astronomy and physics professor, points out that the Prime Meridian passes through several sites important to the history of science. Beginning at Brighton, he headed north along the numerous walking paths that crisscross the English countryside. Each chapter begins with the landscape, then zooms out to look at how our sense of time and space has expanded since Greek times, when the first measurement of the earth's size was made near Alexandria. Successive scientific revolutions have progressively removed Earth and the human race from the center of the cosmos. Raymo's course brings him near sites where the first dinosaur fossils were found (forcing a revised estimate of the earth's age), near Darwin's home in Down, and near the London home of the Royal society, where Newton and other scientific giants first made their findings known. A key site is the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where various Astronomers Royal did work that enlarged our conception of the universe, continuing the process begun by the Greek philosopher Aristarchus, whose work anticipated Copernicus. There he also finds John Harrison's clocks, which solved the problem of determining longitude at sea, and gave a reason for locating the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. The final stop is at the radio telescopes at Cambridge, where research established that the universe is some 13 billion years old. Raymo enriches his picture by including the likes of Samuel Pepys, who combined membership in the Royal Society with a career that took him to all levels of Restoration society. Like Pepys, Raymo has a goodeye for colorful detail, and brings it to bear on his narrative. Well written, congenial, and full of lore-about both England and the history of science.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802714947
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 5/2/2006
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.69 (w) x 8.46 (h) x 0.97 (d)

Meet the Author

For nearly forty years, Chet Raymo has been exploring the relationship between science, nature, and the humanities as a professor, writer, illustrator and naturalist. A professor emeritus of astronomy and physics at Stonehill College in North Easton, Massachusetts, He is the author of more than eight books on science, including the highly-praised An Intimate Look at the Night Sky, 365 Starry Nights, The Soul of the Night, Honey from Stone, and Skeptics and True Believers. Since 1985, he has written "Science Musings" for the Boston Globe, a weekly science and nature column reflecting upon the human side of science. Chet Raymo and his wife Maureen live in North Easton, Massachusetts.

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