The Sleepwalkers

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This article is about the 1959 Arthur Koestler book. For the 1932 Hermann Broch novel trilogy, see The Sleepwalkers (Broch). For other uses, see Sleepwalker (disambiguation).
The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe
First UK edition (published by Hutshinson)
Author Arthur Koestler
Country England, United Kingdom
Language English
Subject Astronomy and cosmology
Published 1959 (Hutshinson)
Media type Hardcover
OCLC 186163756

The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe is a 1959 book by Arthur Koestler. It is one of the main accounts of the history of cosmology and astronomy in the Western World, beginning in ancient Mesopotamia and ending with Isaac Newton.

Koestler challenges the habitual idea of a progressive science working towards a definite goal. The suggestion of his title is that the scientific discoveries and the geniuses that come to them are like a game of sleepwalking. Not that they come by pure chance, but that often the genius doesn't really know what he has discovered, as it is evident for instance in the three Laws of Kepler.


Koestler starts off the book by looking back into his childhood about his philosophy of the world. He states that when he looks at the world, he looks at it as how the Babylonians did. He goes on to talk about where the Babylonians and Egyptians left off and the Greeks took over philosophy. "Homer's world is another, more colourful oyster, a floating disc surrounded by Okeanus."[1]

We can add to our knowledge, but we cannot subtract from it. – Arthur Koestler

A central theme of the book is the changing relationship between faith and reason. Koestler explores how these seemingly contradictory threads existed harmoniously in many of the greatest intellectuals of the West. He illustrates that while the two are estranged today, in the past the most ground-breaking thinkers were often very spiritual.

Another recurrent theme of this book is the breaking of paradigms in order to create new ones. People – scientists included – hold on to cherished old beliefs with such love and attachment that they refuse to see the wrong in their ideas and the truth in the ideas that are to replace them.

"The conclusion he puts forward at the end of the book is that modern science is trying too hard to be rational. Scientists have been at their best when they allowed themselves to behave as "sleepwalkers," instead of trying too earnestly to ratiocinate."[2]

Publication data[edit]

  • Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man's Changing Vision of the Universe (1959), Hutchinson
  • First published in the United States by MacMillan in 1959
  • Published by Penguin Books in 1964
  • Reissued by Pelican Books in 1968
  • Reprinted by Peregrine Books in 1986; ISBN 0-14-055212-X
  • Reprinted by Arkana in 1989; ISBN 0-14-019246-8[3]
  • Online readable version (limited preview) [1]
  • Chapters on Kepler excerpted as The Watershed published by Doubleday Anchor in 1960, as part of the Science Study Series.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Bellevue, John (2009). "The SleepWalkers". New York City: The Macmillan Company.
  2. ^ Toulmin, Stephen (30 August 1962). The Journal of Philosophy. Vol. 59, No. 18. p. 502.
  3. ^ Koestler, Arthur. The Sleepwalkers. London: Penguin Group. p. 4. ISBN 978-0-14-019246-9. 

External links[edit]