This curious little book was first published in 1686, and was a popular science book. Unlike many other scientific works of its time, it was written not in Latin, but in French and is notable as one of the first books to attempt an explanation of scientific theories in popular language, in recognition of the intelligence of women in matters scientific. The reader is presented with a series of conversations between a gallant philosopher and a marquise, who walk in the latter's garden at night and gaze at stars. The philosopher explains the heliocentric model and also muses on the possibility of extraterrestrial life. Fontenelle's work was not cast polemically against the world views of either the Catholic Church or the Protestant churches, nor did it attract the attention, positive or negative, of theologians or prelates.
Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle (1657-1757) was a French author and an influential member of three of the academies of the Institut de France, noted especially for his accessible treatment of scientific topics during the unfolding of the Age of Enlightenment. Fontenelle was a popular figure in the educated French society of his period, holding a position of esteem comparable only to that of Voltaire. Unlike Voltaire however, Fontenelle avoided making important enemies. He balanced his penchant for universal critical thought with liberal doses of flattery and praise to the appropriate individuals in aristocratic society.
The book is in what can only be described as 'fair' condition, having suffered considerable wear during its 207-year life. It is a paper bound book with stiff, very faded, covers. The title is printed on the front cover, with adverts on the back. A simple title would also have been printed on the spine, but the spine is unfortunately missing. As a cost-cutting measure, publishers began to issue books in paper covers. These were intended to be more permanent with stiff cover, but the sewing was temporary so the owner could have it bound in his own style. Here we can clearly see the strings holding the pages together. Inside, the roughcut pages are tanned and somewhat foxed, but the text is readable, with no annotations. Some pages remain uncut. The title page has a rather charming illustration of, presumably, the author. A curiosity, and an amazing survivor.