December 19, 1989
Every so often a writer finds a way of reinterpreting the cosmos, of guiding readers through new fields of knowledge to transcendent understanding. O. B. Hardison, Jr., is such a writer, and Disappearing through the Skylight is such a book: a ground-breaking work that changes the way we look at our world, our culture, and ourselves.
“In the nineteenth century,” writes Professor Hardison, “science presented nature as a group of objects set comfortably and solidly in the middle distance before the eyes of the beholder…. Today, nature has slipped, perhaps finally, beyond our field of vision.” In these lavishly illustrated pages, Hardison explores what this disappearance means for science, for history, for art and architecture, for music, for language, for our very definition of humanity. He writes about Darwin and Einstein, medieval cosmology and modern chaos theory, sixteenth-century clockmaking and the work of Bauhaus architects, computer graphics and T.S. Eliot, robots and Picasso. He shows us how the electron microscope, the computer, and the lunar lander have altered our relationship to our universe and our sense of the possibilities of that relationship.
Most remarkably, Hardison does this with rare wit and grace; he is able to infuse the most complex science with playfulness and clarity. Smithsonian magazine has said of him, “if anyone qualifies for that much-abused description – Renaissance Man – O. B. Hardison, Jr., does.” The proof is apparent on every page of this brilliant and provocative new book. As we move toward the twenty-first century and its silicon future, Disappearing through the Skylight is essential reading if we are to understand where we have come from and where we are going.
O. B. Hardison, Jr., is the author of numerous works of cultural criticism, including, most recently, Entering the Maze: Identity and Change in Modern Culture. Presently University Professor at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., he was a founding member of the Quark Club, a group of scientists and humanists interested in cultural change. In 1980 he was John F. Kennedy visiting lecturer to New Zealand, and in 1983 he was awarded the Order of the British Empire.