Seeing and Believing

This is, on the surface, an engaging and highly readable account of the history of the telescope. But on a more fundamental level, it is a history of man’s advancing knowledge of the universe. This book is, first and foremost, an inspiring account of human discovery and progress.

Seeing and Believing covers the period from Galileo's first use, in the early 17th century, of the rudimentary "spyglass" to investigate the heavens, through the most cutting-edge astronomical discoveries of the twentieth century. Panek begins with a brief summary of the changes that took place between 1400 and 1600, setting the stage for Galileo's achievements. This period, Panek notes, marked the end of the middle ages: "Explorers had blinked in the fresh light, and then they had set out, voracious for knowledge and experience, until they had devoured the whole globe." Panek also gives us penetrating insight into the minds of the discoverers. He quotes Englishman William Herschel – a pioneer in the development of reflecting telescopes: "When in the course of time, I took up astronomy, I determined to accept nothing on faith, but to see with my own eyes everything which others had seen before me." This exhilarating sense of life is a recurring theme throughout Seeing and Believing.

Of Gregory Ellery Hale, who developed the telescopes at both Yerkes and Mount Wilson Observatories, Panek writes: "What was Hale's own constant striving for something bigger, better, deeper, farther, further, newer if not a belief in progress? He even had a name for his condition: 'Americanitis."'

As the twentieth century began, Panek notes, "the universe was exactly one galaxy big." This was soon to change with Edwin Hubble's discovery of the Andromeda galaxy in 1923. Hubble remarked that "the universe is a work in progress." His comment could also be applied to man himself, who, as part of the universe, was exercising his reason with ever greater power to uncover new mysteries and expand his understanding of reality.

As both a history of discovery and a tribute to the discoverers, Seeing and Believing is an accessible, entertaining and inspiring story.

( 198 pages )

This review is courtesy of and copyright © by the Ayn Rand Bookstore.


  • Seeing and Believing by Richard Panek. The history of man's search to understand the heavens and an illustration of the development and progress of scientific knowledge.