Book in Focus
A History of Physics from Antiquity to the Enlightenment"/>

03rd August 2022

Book in Focus
A History of Physics from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

By Alessandra Gliozzi and Ferdinando Gliozzi

This book presents a general unifying view of the advanced ideas and the experimental findings underlying the evolution of physical knowledge from classical Antiquity to the eighteenth century, including the Hellenic, Hellenistic and Greco-Roman Ages, the Middle Ages and the Enlightenment. It is a part of a two-volume work; the second book, A History of Physics over the Last Two Centuries, describes the development in physics after the 1700s. Together, the two provide a simple and united view of the evolution of physics from its beginnings up to the late 20th century. 

The work covers the history of physics in a simple, non-technical way, following the developments of the underlying ideas and the main experimental facts in a language that is always scrupulous in respecting the original terminology. It provides a useful tool to understand and thoroughly trace the historical basis of modern discoveries.

Although it is rigorous in its statements, it offers a pleasant and clear read to non-specialists. It goes without saying that the book is about physics, but readers may be led to believe that they are reading a novel!

The book is written in a clear and concise style, demonstrating a profound knowledge of the original texts to which it refers in extensive bibliographical references, so rich as to also make frequent reference to the comments of other historians. The treatment of the various subjects is lucid and lively, and accessible to readers unfamiliar with the field. 

The ideas which gave rise to the experimental methods and modern approaches to physical phenomena are discussed in detail: the result of each step forward is not merely celebrated, but the tortuous and often controversial journey to reach the conclusion is described in depth.

One of the undeniable merits of the work is the total honesty of the historian-researcher that, by re-opening the arguments over consolidated hierarchies, leads him to re-tell the developments in physics, also citing less-studied or less-famous authors. The accurate and direct consultation of the sources allows the author to justify both obsolete historiographic theories and correct many commonplaces in the history of science, such as the idea that the fountain of modern science is experimentation. However, recourse to experiments, as Gliozzi rightly observes, is as old as physics itself, and remained central throughout the Middle Ages.

The fundamental philosophical idea guiding scientific research from the Renaissance onwards is different, however, and is expressed by Leonardo da Vinci: “No human investigation can be considered true science without mathematical proofs”. It is an idea that links the great artist da Vinci, an “inspired student of nature”, to that other outstanding Italian scientist of the period, the Galileo of the “experiences felt and certain mathematical proofs”.

The chapter on Galileo movingly recounts the abjuration imposed by the Holy Office during the Roman Inquisition of the Catholic Church:

“On 22 May 1633, Galileo, kneeling before the Congregation of the Holy Office, as was the custom, had to “abjure, damn and swear against his errors and heresies”. Sentenced to prison, he was first locked up in Rome, then in Siena at the home of his friend Archbishop Ascanio Piccolomini, and in late 1633 in his villa in Arcetri that would serve as his prison and where he was forbidden to receive unauthorised visitors. Yet the torments of the aged scientist were not finished: in April 1634, his beloved first daughter, the sweet Sister Maria Celeste, who had lovingly comforted him during the trial, died. The harsh isolation in Arcetri - where the ban on receiving visitors was rigorously respected - was compounded by a malady that made the scientist completely blind.”

Another giant in the book, alongside da Vinci and Galileo, is Isaac Newton, who naturally takes up many pages. The great English scientist is also interesting from a human point of view: towards the end of his life, he went through a drastic change…

“Curiously, after the publication of the Principia, Newton lost interest in scientific studies and started to look for state employment, meeting serious obstacles. But in the meantime, the long intellectual effort to write the Principia, lack of rest, insufficient and irregular meals, the delusion over the obstacles to his search for employment, brought him to the brink of madness. He recovered almost completely in 1694, at the age of 52. The appointment of Newton as director of the Mint practically ended his interest in active research.”

About the author: Mario Gliozzi was born in Ardore (Reggio Calabria, Italy) on 24 March 1899. He moved to Turin in 1920 and graduated in Engineering at the Polytechnic; shortly after, he took a degree in Physics at the University of Turin. There, he met, and developed a huge admiration and affection for, the brilliant mathematician Giuseppe Peano. It was under the tutelage of Peano that Gliozzi became interested in the study of the history of science and began his first historical researches. When only 35, he was awarded a prize by the Academy of the Lincei for his work “A history of electrology up to Volta”, and was elected a member of the Académie Internationale d’Histoire des Sciences.

During World War II, Mario Gliozzi played an active part in the Resistance movement against fascism and was a member of the National Liberation Committee (CLN) for Schools.

He dedicated much of the rest of his life to writing this “History of Physics”. He died in Turin on 9 June 1977.

This version of the book was edited by the author’s son and daughter, Alessandra and Ferdinando, both Professors of Physics, who have divided the work, printed posthumously in Italian (Bollati Boringhieri, 2005), into two volumes in English, published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing.

Mario Gliozzi was a Historian of Science, and published a number of historical studies in national and international journals and books. His major opus is the History of Physics, published posthumously in Italy in 2005.

Alessandra Gliozzi is Full Professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Genoa, Italy. A leader of many research projects, she is author of several papers in international journals on the area of biophysics of membranes and their interactions with proteins.

Ferdinando Gliozzi is Emeritus Professor in Theoretical Physics at the University of Turin, Italy. He is author of several papers in international journals on the areas of high energy physics, elementary particles and string theory.

A History of Physics from Antiquity to the Enlightenment is available now in Hardback at a 25% discount. Enter code PROMO25 at checkout to redeem.

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