"AMONG THE MOST INFLUENTIAL SCIENTISTS IN ALL HISTORY": LAPLACE'S IMPORTANT EXPOSITION DU SYSTEM DU MONDE, 1808 THIRD EDITION
LAPLACE, Pierre-Simon. Exposition du Système du Monde. Paris: Courcier, 1808. Two volumes. Octavo, contemporary full tree sheep, gilt-decorated spines, red morocco spine labels, marbled endpapers. $1250.
Third edition of "one of the most successful popularizations of science ever composed" (DSB), penned by the "Newton of France," in handsome contemporary bindings.
"Laplace was among the most influential scientists in all history" (DSB). As sweeping educational reforms were being instituted under the First Republic and then the Directory, the preeminent scientist and mathematician Laplace was selected to deliver a series of lectures on mathematics, the metric system, and probability to teachers for the Paris region—lessons that they would, in turn, disseminate to their pupils in secondary schools. As he did not have time to thoroughly cover mechanics and astronomy, he referred these teachers to his Exposition, "in which he would give a nonmathematical account of all that had been discovered in these subjects… the promised book proved to be one of the most successful popularizations of science ever composed" (DSB).
Laplace's Exposition is divided into five parts, or books. "Book I begins with what any attentive observer may see if he will open his eyes to the spectacle of the heavens on a clear night with a view of the whole horizon. Book II sets out the 'real' motions of planets, satellites, and comets and gives the dimensions of the solar system. Book III is a verbal precis of the laws of motion as understood in 18th-century rational mechanics, with special reference to astronomy and hydrostatics. In Book IV, Laplace in effect summarized his own work in gravitational mechanics… The topics are perturbations in planetary motions, the shape of the earth, the attraction of spheroids and the rings of Saturn, motions of the tides and atmosphere, the moons of Jupiter, precession, and lunar motions. Book V… gives an overview of the history of astronomy and concludes with the speculation since called the nebular hypothesis and another on the nature of the universe in outer space" (DSB).
Laplace closes his Exposition—first published during the Directory, not long after the Reign of Terror—with a stirring statement of political intent behind the pursuit of and adherence to scientific truth: "Vérité, justice, humanité, voilà ses lois immuables. Loin de nous, la dangereuse maxime qu'il est quelquefois utile de s'en écarter, et de tromper ou d'asservir les hommes pour assurer leur bonheur: de fatales expériences ont prouvé dans tous les temps, que ces lois sacrées ne sont jamais impunément enfreintes" [Truth, Justice, Humanity, these are the immutable laws. Let us banish the dangerous maxim that it is sometimes useful to depart from them, and to deceive or enslave men to ensure their happiness: fatal experiences have proven in all times that these sacred laws are never with impunity infringed] (II, 399). First published in 1796. "Laplace kept his book alive and abreast of his thinking and work throughout his life. A second edition was published in 1799… The third edition appeared in 1808" (DSB). Text in French. See PMM 252 (note).
Interiors clean and fine, some rubbing to corners, spine ends, and joints; unrestored contemporary tree-sheep bindings sound. A very good, handsome copy.