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The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicusby Owen Gingerich
Synopses & Reviews
In the spring of 1543, as the celebrated astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus lay on his deathbed, his fellow clerics brought him a long-awaited package: the final printed pages of the book he had worked on for many years, De Revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres). Though Copernicus would not live to hear of its extraordinary impact, his book which first posited that the sun, not Earth, was the center of the universe — is recognized as the greatest scientific work of the sixteenth century.
Four and a half centuries later, astrophysicist Owen Gingerich embarked on an extraordinary quest: to see in person all extant copies of the first and second printings of De Revolutionibus. He was inspired by two contradictory pieces of information: Arthur Koestler's claim, in his famous book The Sleepwalkers, that nobody had read Copernicus's famous book when it was published; and Gingerich's discovery, at the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh, of a first edition of De Revolutionibus that had been richly annotated in the margins by Erasmus Reinhold, the leading teacher of astronomy in northern Europe in the 1540s — strongly suggesting that Koestler's statement about the book was wrong.
After three decades of investigation, and after traveling hundreds of thousands of miles — from Melbourne to Moscow, Boston to Beijing — to view more than 600 copies of De Revolutionibus, Gingerich has written an utterly original book built from his experience and the remarkable insights gleaned from Copernicus's books. Eventually he found copies once owned by saints, heretics, and scalawags, by musicians, movie stars, medicine men, and bibliomaniacs. Most interesting were the copies owned and annotated by astronomers, which even today illuminate the long, reluctant process of accepting the sun-centered cosmos as a physically real description of the world, and the tensions among scientists and between science and the church.
Part biography of a book and a man, part scientific exploration, part bibliographic quest, Gingerich's book will offer new appreciation of the history of science and cosmology.
"As thoroughly engaging as a good detective story....Providing great insight into 16th-century science, the book should be equally enjoyed by readers interested in the history of science and in bibliophilia." Publishers Weekly
"As cogent and companionable as he is erudite, Gingerich renders even the most esoteric details clear and compelling....[A]n unprecedented and enlivening tale of scholarly sleuthing, scientific revolution, and purposeful bibliomania." Booklist (Starred Review)
"The chronicle of [Gingerich's] search makes for an intricate detective story as fascinating as any in science....Surprisingly entertaining." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] fascinating story of a scholar as sleuth." New York Times
"In the end, Gingerich's census of Copernicus's great work cannot fail to leave one impressed by the man's energy." Michael Dirda, Washington Post
"Science history buffs and bibliophiles will enjoy this lively story." Library Journal
Part biography of a book, part scientific exploration, part bibliographic detective story, The Book Nobody Read recolors the history of cosmology and offers a new appreciation of the enduring power of an extraordinary book and its ideas. Prodded by Arthur Koestle‛s claim that when it was first published nobody read Copernicu‛s De revolutionibus¬—in which Copernicus first suggested that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe¬—renowned astro-historian Owen Gingerich embarked on a three-decade-long quest to see in person all 600 extant copies of the first and second editions of De revolutionibus, including those owned and annotated by Galileo and Kepler. Tracing the ownership of individual copies through the hands of saints, heretics, scalawags, and bibliomaniacs, Gingerich proves conclusively¬—four and a half centuries after its publication¬—that De revolutionibus was as inspirational as it was revolutionary.
About the Author
Owen Gingerich is senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory, research professor of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University, and a leading authority on Johannes Kepler and Nicolaus Copernicus. He has been vice president of the American Philosophical Society and chairman of the U.S. National Committee of the International Astronomical Union. He and his wife, Miriam, live in Cambridge, Massachusetts; avid travelers (he has successfully observed twelve total solar eclipses), they collect rare books and shells.
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