Thursday, July 21, 2011

A More Perfect Heaven by Dava Sobel

Author Dava Sobel, known for her best selling books Longitude, Galileo's Daughter and The Planets, has written a book about Copernicus. This book chronicles the times and publication of Nicolaus Copernicus' theories regarding the motions of our planets and their relationship to our sun. Sobel describes the life Copernicus led until meeting Georg Joachim Rheticus, a young mathematician who urged the reluctant Copernicus to publish his work. The social, political and religious climate of the time is described. Then Sobel inserts a second part in the form of a short play which imaginatively deals with Copernicus and Rheticus, their first encounter and some of their subsequent work together. The third section of the book picks up where the play ends, telling about the publication and contoversial reception of Copernicus' heliocentric theory. Sobel's book is coming out in the fall, accompanied by an ambitious marketing campaign worthy of such an established author. It will be interesting to see if the book reaches the same popularity of her earlier books. It's been awhile since I've read Longitude and Galileo's Daughter. My memory may have faded. However, I don't believe I found them to be as dry, lacking in energy and momentum as this upcoming release. Copernicus doesn't come alive except in the somewhat awkwardly placed, Shakespearean-feeling play section. Perhaps some of the lack of the more dynamic elements found in Sobel's previous books is due to the fact that Copernicus was a rarther withdrawn person, quietly working alone for years on his studies while conscientiously performing his church and medical duties. Copernicus died just as his work On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres was published, withdrawing him from the active stage of the controversies which followed, embroiling Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo in the ridicule and censure Copernicus feared for himself.

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