In this excellent study, an Italian researcher on human cognition sheds light on the subject of shadows. Beginning with his own specialty, the author discusses infants' inability to understand shadows, and how children develop that capacity over time. Throughout history, Casati says, shadows have also played an enormous role in adults' understanding of the world around them. They flourish in myth and folklore, and were crucial in the development of geometry, the earliest branch of mathematics, which led to our first measurements of the size of the Earth. When the telescope was invented, shadows helped prove that the moon was a solid object with a rugged surface, that Venus was not self-illuminating, that Saturn had rings and that the speed of light is not infinite. Closer to home, sundials and sun clocks were the earliest reliable method of telling time, while in art, shadows, though often left out entirely, were basic to the discovery and use of perspective. Add to this coverage a smooth translation, abundant illustrations (including Albrecht Durer's nightmarish device for getting perspective right), and witty section headings featuring Plato arguing with his shadow over the nature of reality. This is a most admirable and illuminating book. 78 illustrations. (Aug.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Although Casati (research fellow, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Paris) intends this as a nominal science book about the role of shadows in the natural world, he spends just as much time analyzing their influence in philosophy, psychology, sociology, art, and math. The main thrust of his discussions, regardless of discipline, is how shadows have been used as tools to understand the world around us throughout (mostly Western) history. The author explores how humans relate to shadows and what makes a shadow a shadow rather than something else (night, or a gray blob, for example); also discussed are astronomical applications of shadows (eclipses, phases, determining the size of the earth, confirming that Saturn is surrounded by rings) and the artistic and geometric aspects of shadows. Only a few passages are difficult to follow, and the photos and illustrations peppered throughout are usually sufficient to clarify these spots. The overall effect is a fun and interesting general interest book suitable for any library. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 4/1/03.]-Marcia R. Franklin, Academy Coll. Lib., St Paul, MN Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Popular science on an elusive subject by an Italian research fellow working in Paris. Casati started ruminating seriously about shadows while watching a lunar eclipse seven years ago. His understanding of the moon had been limited, he realized, until the very moment that the earth's shadow completely extinguished the nighttime glow. So, Casati thought, shadows obscure, but they also illuminate. How does that happen? He started reading fiction and nonfiction, ancient and modern, about how shadows are perceived, how they are formed, what purposes they actually serve in daily life on planet Earth. Casati's reading took him back to the seventh book of Plato's Republic, as well as to sources ranging from Galileo to Piaget to the Koran. Despite the lucid translation and abundant illustrations, portions of the text are quite likely to be difficult for readers without extensive knowledge of physics and geometry. It turns out that while shadows are the "great antagonist" of vision, those same shadows are necessary to vision: "The information carried by shadow is a fundamental aid to seeing." For those who cannot grasp the actual science behind that counterintuitive concept, Casati offers analogies and metaphors galore, including an especially useful one involving the use of a racket while playing tennis. The four-page appendix, "Shadow News, Shadow Facts," is also helpful. An earnest, sometimes compelling attempt to explain an everyday phenomenon, perhaps immune to human understanding.