Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy
Henry H, Bauer
University of Illinois Press
Urbana and Chicago
$19.95, 1999, 354 pages
Henry Bauer’s Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy covers a very interesting episode in scientific thought. In the 1950 and 60’s, Immanuel Velikovsky wrote three books that forever changed human perception of the Solar System. I remember reading them. They certainly made an impression on me and, apparently, many other people also. Velikovsky, well educated and erudite, but a psychiatrist rather than an astronomer or a geologist, challenged many opinions held by the scientific community. He tried to prove that Venus once had an erratic orbit that caused it to almost collide with Earth. It missed the Earth, but caused catastrophic disturbances. Then it almost collided with Mars, disrupting Mars’ orbit and causing Mars to almost collide with Earth, again with catastrophic consequences. Velikovsky appealed directly to the untrained general reader, like myself, bypassing the specialists. His opinions about the Solar System’s stability differed very much from opinions that were then accepted. His articulate prose made his books best sellers. However, his methods so offended the specialists that some of them tried to ban publication of his books.
The brash action of those who tried to ban his books shocked many people, especially students preparing for careers in the physical sciences. Later, NASA exploration of the Solar System confirmed some of Velikovsky’s opinions. Because of these events, Immanuel Velikovsky gained worldwide fame, a nemesis for those who opposed him, an inspiration for those who believed him.
Henry Bauer, almost fifty years later wrote Beyond Velikovsky: The History of a Public Controversy. Bauer used quotations, letters and excerpts from articles and ventured his own opinions. He claimed to be open-minded and fair to Velikovsky, but Bauer made several statements that show even he shares the same bias the scientific community had fifty years earlier. Velikovsky offended scientists, even Bauer, by bypassing the standard procedure of publishing one thesis at a time for the scientific community to evaluate. Standard procedure would have each thesis published separately so the scientific community could critique and add to them point by point. Velikovsky bypassed the scientific community by writing directly to the general reader. In effect, he upstaged the scientific community in their own field. Bauer states “In this house (of knowledge) that astronomers knew so well, there was a door of possible catastrophe that they never noticed. Velikovsky did the most infuriating thing in the world. He, a stranger, walked through this door.” The animosity of some scientists ran deep.
In my readings, I have seen Velikovsky belittled in many scientific books, and yet, some of his widely ridiculed claims turned out to be correct, like the surface temperature of Venus being 800 °F. Because of the long standing controversy about Velikovsky, Henry Bauer wrote to set the record straight. Being an established and respected professor of chemistry himself and author of many scientific papers, Bauer is well qualified to speak for the scientific community. Although Bauer is still critical of Velikovsky, his book presents a well-researched and thorough account of the main elements in the controversy about Velikovsky. The reader can view a broad overview of what was written by the scientific community and what some famous scientists did in public forums with Velikovsky to refute his claims. If you have ever heard of Velikovsky and wondered what it is really all about, this book is well worth reading.
About the reviewer: Maurice A. Williams is an author of inspirational articles and poems and has published a book: Revelation, Fall of Judea, Rise of the Church. Prior to his retirement, he was Director of Research and Development for a firm that did business all over the world. He has traveled to many countries himself. He is also author of technical articles in scientific journals and chapters in technical books. He has four children and six grandchildren, and lives at home with his wife. You can visit his Web Site http://www.mauriceawilliams.com