The Earth is Flat

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Sunday Times review of Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea, by Christine Garwood.

Recent flat-earthism was revived by an awkward Lancashireman (if that’s not a tautology), one Samuel Birley Rowbotham of Stockport, a radical socialist, quack doctor and all-round pain in the neck. With scant education concealed by tremendous energy and self-belief, Rowbotham started touring England in the late 1830s, arguing that the earth was a flat disc, the sun was 400 miles from London, and that we age only because we ingest too much “phosphate and sulphate of lime”. He comes across as a Victorian hybrid of David Icke and Dave Spart. Garwood vividly evokes this milieu of bolshy, furiously autodidactic working-class men in their splendid Mechanics’ Institutes and Owenite Halls of Science, determined to prove those toffee-nosed boffins down in London wrong. Even if they were spectacularly wrong themselves, there’s something appealing about their stubborn contrariness.