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Seeing and Believing

How the Telescope Opened Our Eyes and Minds to the Heavens


Tube of lead, two disks of glass: The answer, when at last it arrived, was simplicity itself. For several years lenses of the right shape had lain within reach of anyone entering a spectacle maker's shop. For three centuries spectacles themselves had been popularizing the magnifying properties of curved glass. For the past couple of millennia it had been common knowledge that if you want to eliminate distracting light and concentrate your powers of observation on a distant object, use a tube. In many ways the arrival of this latest wonder in an age of wonders was only a matter of time. Not so the transformation it then underwent. That, nobody could have foreseen, even though the one ingredient essential for the conversion of this potential plaything into an instrument of mathematical and philosophical investigation—for its invention as the telescope, in effect—presumably had been present at the Creation: curiosity about a Creator.




"A deft and beautiful book! Panek has turned his considerable talent to the subject of telescopes, their history, and how they changed our universe, and he's hit a sweet spot of poetry and science. Seeing and Believingis about vision in its deepest sense."

—Richard Preston, author of The Hot Zone

"Mr. Panek writes about science with practiced fluency. To convey this as vividly as he does requires a skill just as demanding as the ability to explain new developments, namely a capacity to imagine and make clear how people saw things in the past."

The New York Times

"This is a gem of a book. Elegant, informative, provocative, and beautifully written."

—Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams

"A terrifically readable history...written with the zeal of a born inquisitor."



"An exciting interstelar voyage that shows how a humble novelty item and maritime tool evolved into a powerful exploratory instrument that has changed our conception of the cosmos. A delightful intellectual adventure."

Publishers Weekly


"Panek recounts the evolution of the instrument not in stiff, scientific terms, but with the awe and wonder the visionaries he writes about must have felt."

Charlestown Post and Courier (South Carolina)


"Panek's history of the revolution wrought by the telescope is a beautiful piece of writing, prose as transparent as a high-grade optic. Reading it will truly open your eyes."

—Portland Oregonian