This book describes in detail the various theories on the shape of the Earth from classical antiquity to the present day and examines how measurements of its form and dimensions have evolved throughout this period. The origins of the notion of the sphericity of the Earth are explained, dating back to Eratosthenes and beyond, and detailed attention is paid to the struggle to establish key discoveries as part of the cultural heritage of humanity. In this context, the roles played by the Catholic Church and the philosophers of the Middle Ages are scrutinized. Later contributions by such luminaries as Richer, Newton, Clairaut, Maupertuis, and Delambre are thoroughly reviewed, with exploration of the importance of mathematics in their geodetic enterprises. The culmination of progress in scientific research is the recognition that the reference figure is not a sphere but rather a geoid and that the earth's shape is oblate. Today, satellite geodesy permits the solution of geodetic problems by means of precise measurements. Narrating this fascinating story from the very beginning not only casts light on our emerging understanding of the figure of the Earth but also offers profound insights into the broader evolution of human thought.
Dino Boccaletti was Professor of Celestial Mechanics at the Sapienza University of Rome from 1987 until his retirement, and was previously Professor in the Institution of Mathematics at the university. In addition to his teaching and supervisory responsibilities, Prof. Boccaletti conducted research in the fields of Physics of Elementary Particles, Theoretical Astrophysics, Theory of Gravitational Waves, Stellar Dynamics, Celestial Mechanics, and Mathematical Physics. He has published a number of papers in leading journals, including Nature, Physical Review D, and Astronomy & Astrophysics, and has acted as reviewer for various scientific journals. He is co-author, with G. Pucacco, of the two-volume Springer book Theory of Orbits, which is used for advanced courses in Celestial Mechanics and Stellar Dynamics at universities across the world. Since his retirement, he has been interested in the history of science and, besides papers, he has published the book Galileo and the Equations of Motion.