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Cambridge 38, Massachusetts

January 25, 1950

Mr. James Putnam
The Macmillan Company
60 Fifth Avenue
New York 11, N.Y.

Dear Mr. Putnam:

Thanks for your full letter of January 24. It will be interesting a year from now to hear from you as to whether or not the reputation of the Macmillan Company is damaged by the publication of “Worlds of Collision.” Possibly you already have published similar “theories” and know that the reaction of the public is not professionally or financially undesirable. My chief interest now in your publication of the volume is just to see if the reaction is favorable—an experiment in the psychology of scientists and the public.

Larrabee is probably too little to judge by, but from where I sit the celestial mechanics of Dr. Velikovsky is complete nonsense. Perhaps in the book he follows through some of the consequences that must result from the celestial manipulations he describes.

If I remember correctly, several years ago (perhaps only three or four) Dr. Velikovsky, with an introduction from Horace Kallen, or some other acquaintance of mine, met me in a New York hotel. He sought my endorsement of his theory. I was astonished. I looked around to see if he had a keeper with him. He declined to participate in the tea or cocktail; but he was a very attractive individual in manner and vocabulary. I tried, but rather futilely, to explain to him that if the earth could be stopped in such a short space of time it would overthrow all that Isaac Newton had done; it would have wrecked all life on the surface of the planet; it would have denied all the laborious and impartial finds of paleontology; it would have made impossible that he and I could meet together in a building in New York City less than four thousand years after this tremendous planetary event.

Dr. V. seemed very sad. But somehow I felt he was feeling sorry for me and the thousands of other American physical scientists and geologists and historians who have been so, so wrong.*

You cannot wonder that I looked for a keeper. But of course if he and Macmillan are right, I should rather be looking for the million keepers who should be in charge of the million of us who are not willing to change the facts and careful recordings of nature, in the interests of exegesis.

Naturally you can see that I am interested in your experiment. And frankly, unless you can assure me that you have done things like this frequently in the past without damage, the publication must cut me off from the Macmillan Company. But this is a triviality.

One of my colleagues by request is writing a commentary on Larrabee’s article, and, being also a classicist, will probably have a good time. I don’t suppose there would be any chance that you would send to me for this colleague an early copy of the proof sheets so that it will be Dr. V. who is discussed and not Mr. Larrabee?

Yes, it will be an interesting experiment. Incidentally, I suppose you have checked up on the references of Dr. V. He certainly has had a brilliant and varied career, and is remarkably versatile. It is quite possible that only this “Worlds in Collision” episode is intellectually fraudulent.

Sincerely yours,

[signed] Harlow Shapley

* You may be able to report that Dr. V. has never been in New York and that my consultant was another planet handler.


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