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Un cielo pluscuamperfecto: Copérnico y la revolución del cosmos

Un cielo pluscuamperfecto: Copérnico y la revolución del cosmos

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Un cielo pluscuamperfecto: Copérnico y la revolución del cosmos

valoraciones:
4/5 (20 valoraciones)
Longitud:
390 páginas
4 horas
Editorial:
Publicado:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9788415427629
Formato:
Libro

Descripción

Dava Sobel, autora del best-seller de culto Longitud, recrea la vida de Copérnico, el hombre que se atrevió a decir, hace casi quinientos años, que la Tierra no era el centro del universo. Cómo lo supo, cómo lo intentó demostrar, cómo lo escribió... es una historia que Sobel convierte en una narración llena de encanto, la crónica de un hombre enfrentado a la ciencia, la religión y la sociedad de su época.
Pero entonces aparece un segundo personaje, un joven admirador, aspirante a científico y astrónomo amateur, que oye aquella extraña teoría, lee lo que Copérnico ha escrito casi avergonzado de su idea, y decide que aquello debe ver la luz. Rético, ese joven, cambia completamente el curso de los acontecimientos; y un descubrimiento se convierte en una revolución, aún hoy una de las más asombrosas del intelecto humano.
Editorial:
Publicado:
Apr 1, 2016
ISBN:
9788415427629
Formato:
Libro

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Reseñas de lectores

  • (4/5)
    Dava Sobel has moved back in time a bit with A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernius Revolutionized the Cosmos (Walker & Company, 2011), taking her readers out of Galilean Italy and into Copernican Poland. She's also done something rather unconventional with this book, inserting a two-act play, "And the Sun Stood Still" into the middle of the historical narrative.The play attempts to capture the interaction between Copernicus and Johann Joachim Rheticus as the younger Rheticus persuades Copernicus to finish his manuscript and publish the astronomical discoveries he's made. When I first started reading, I was skeptical of how this imaginative but necessarily conjectural endeavor would work ... thankfully Sobel's a writer with enough talent to pull it off, although I'm thankful that her editor persuaded her to add the contextual material.By bracketing the play with narrative chapters outlining Copernicus' life and career up to the arrival of Rheticus, and then of his decline following Rheticus' departure (along with the publication history of De revolutionibus and an examination of its reception), Sobel manages to add heft to the dramatic interlude at the center of the book, while still granting her own fictional creation pride of place.
  • (3/5)
    This book is on the fascinating topic of how Copernicus led an astronomical revolution to place the Sun at the center of our Solar System with the planets circling about. There were serious concerns by the Catholic Church owing to the biblical story of Joshua asking God to make the Sun stand still so he could vanquish his enemies. Some of Copernicus's friends were also Lutheran, although Martin Luther himself did not approve of replacing Ptolemy's original earth-centric theory. "Consorting" with Lutherans also put Copernicus at risk, since Lutheranism was considered heresy. I should have found this book fascinating but somehow it was slightly flat. In particular, the first third was very dry with lots of names and places I didn't know and couldn't keep track of. The second part was written as a play, which really humanized Copernicus and rescued the book for me. The third part takes place after his death and described how scientists began to spread his theory and bring it into the mainstream of the science of astronomy. That part was also somewhat interesting. In summary: could have been better but I learned a lot.
  • (3/5)
    A great read, provided the material at an understandable level and kept the reader interested in the topic.
  • (3/5)
    Very readable, and chocked with info on Copernicus's life as a Canon in Varmia on the Baltic, after study at U of Krakow, and at least two Italian univoersities--Bologna (canon law) and Padova (medicine. Copernicus ended up a physician who made his living as a political appointee (canon) at Varmia Cathedral, appointed by the literal nepotism of his uncle the Bishop. But I found the play a problem, "Interplay," inserted in the middle of the book--a fictonal account of Copernicus and his Protestant fan and assistant Rheticus, as well as a few others. Perhaps it should have been attached at the end of the book; it would be less damaging, less intrusive, so. Sobel makes just enough non-specialist mistakes to please this specialist. For example, on her very first page she refers to horoscopes and "birth certtificates" though they were not used until 1837 in the UK. No idea when in Poland. Of course, the whole thing in the Renaissance was baptism; we have Shakespeare's baptismal day, NOT his birthday, which no-one knows, though everyone celebrates it. (A typical event in popular culture.)
  • (4/5)
    By 1514, the reclusive cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had developed an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he defied common sense and received wisdom to place the sun, and not the earth, at the center of our universe, and set the earth spinning among the other planets. Over the next two decades, Copernicus expanded his theory and compiled in secret a book-length manuscript that tantalized mathematicians and scientists throughout Europe. For fear of ridicule, he refused to publish.In 1539, a young German mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, drawn by rumors of a revolution to rival the religious upheaval of Martin Luther's Reformation, traveled to Poland to seek out Copernicus. Two years later, the Protestant youth took leave of his aging Catholic mentor and arranged to have Copernicus's manuscript published, in 1543, as De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)-the book that forever changed humankind's place in the universe.In her elegant, compelling style, Dava Sobel chronicles, as nobody has, the conflicting personalities and extraordinary discoveries that shaped the Copernican Revolution. At the heart of the book is her play "And the Sun Stood Still," imagining Rheticus's struggle to convince Copernicus to let his manuscript see the light of day.
  • (3/5)
    As with "Longitude", Dava Sobel selects a topic that is awfully interesting, and about which I know next to nothing, but writes about it fairly poorly. Well worth the read, if you don't know much about Copernicus already. I skipped the play in the middle of the book.
  • (4/5)
    Partly a biography of Copernicus, this is mainly a summary of the impact and influence of his book On the Revolutions. Sobel also provides a two-act play of historical fiction that seems a bit out of place, at first. But it's not. The fiction, oddly, adds a certain sense of reality to the setting in which Copernicus lived, studied, pondered, and wrote. His world was much different than ours. There was no true freedom of inquiry. The power of established authority was pervasive and oppressive. And everyone was certain that the purpose of the stars and planets was to provide clues to human affairs on a fixed Earth far below. Today, astronomy seeks to discover what's out there. Not so in the 16th century. In Copernicus's time, the purpose of astronomy was to provide better observations and calculations of planetary motion for preparing astrological predictions and for reforming the calendar. That this seems bizarre to us now is due to the revolution Copernicus began back then.
  • (3/5)
    54. A More Perfect Heaven : How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos (Audio) by Dava Sobel, read by Suzanne Toren Fernandez (2011, 7 hours 24 minutes, 288 pages in text form, Listened September 17 - 23)Stage play voices by George Guidall, John McDonough, Peter Jay, Alma Cuervo, & Andy ParisI couldn't pass up a Dava Sobel on Nicolas Copernicus...and in audio. But I would only grant this three stars overall.This is mainly an exploration of the world of an elder Copernicus from about the time when he apparently picked up his neglected astronomical work and finally prepared it for publication. Sobel inserted a stage drama inside the book about this time, which was entertaining on audio with several actors adding voices. George Guidall was the voice of Copernicus.Copernicus had become a valued diplomat and apparently a valued medical doctor. He experienced the early days of Lutheran reformation, when the catholic leaders were forced to respond and were suddenly expected to be better behaved. The clerical politics got complicated and an elder Copernicus was expected to part with his female housekeeper, who was likely his long time partner. Yet Copernicus was allowed to work on and publish this religiously controversial work, and his main assistant in finalizing his work, a young expert mathematician named Georg Joachim Rheticus, was Lutheran. I found all this interesting but a bit limited in scope. Copernicus's younger life and legacy were covered but not in a very rewarding way as they are not the book's focus. I did enjoy the stage play on audio, even if it never felt authentically true to me.
  • (4/5)
    A very inventive way of telling this story, with Sobel's fictional account of part of it, sandwiched with conventional research. She attempts to explain why Copernicus did not publish until near the end of his life.
  • (4/5)
    Another interesting look at an historical and scientific figure. Sobel does a really good job in making the science understandable. I loved the play in the middle of the work. Another example of how my church demonized smart and inventive people; the process continues to this day.
  • (4/5)
    Sobel follows her success with Galileo's Daugher with a biography of Copernicus, the originator of the heliocentric theory that Galileo so famously propounded. Copernicus' life is less well-documented than Galileo's, between the earlier period and the fact that On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres had little impact when first published, and Sobel chooses to include a brief play, speculating on the meeting and interactions of Copernicus with his sole student, a German Lutheran named Rheticus, interspersed between the two sections of the biography. This unusual technique works well; I doubt the play has much merit on its own as drama, but as a way to convey her own speculations as clearly separate from known historical fact it serves its purpose.After an initial overview of the theory, and a rare but appreciated nod to earlier Greek astronomers' writings on heliocentricity (several had considered and rejected the notion, on the quite reasonable grounds that if the Earth moved around the Sun the relative positions of the stars would appear to change throughout the course of the year; it was a failure to consider that the distances to the stars could be so much greater than that to the Sun that parallax is unobservable without a telescope, rather than mindless adherence to geocentric theory, that led them to reject heliocentricity), Sobel spends relatively little time on the actual development of Copernicus' theory, perhaps because little of his original notes survive; instead, she devotes most of the biographical portion of the book to talking about his earlier life and his interactions with Rheticus, who had encountered an abbreviated version of the writings and traveled to Poland to convince Copernicus to publish his work, which he did shortly before he died. Without Copernicus' knowledge or agreement, the printer inserted a disclaimer stating that the theory was purely a computational convenience, rather than an actual attempt to explain the structure of the solar system; without Copernicus to contradict the statement, this fig-leaf kept the Church happy until Galileo's later observations and confirmations of heliocentricity. The final section discusses the impact of the "Copernican Revolution" (pointing out that the word in its now-familiar political sense originated in the astronomical sense employed by Copernicus himself) on astronomy; indeed, one of the most fundamental axioms in modern astronomy is the so-called "Copernican Principle", which holds that the Earth is in no way special in the universe; any theory proposed to explain observations cannot resort to special pleading that the Earth holds a privileged postion (for instance, galaxies all appear to recede from the Earth not because we sit at the center but because the universe itself is expanding).
  • (4/5)
    Rating: 4* of fiveThe Book Report: Heliocentrism. I doubt that stirs much passion in anyone reading this review. It means "sun centeredness." *yawn* The solar system is heliocentric. Hawaiian culture is heliocentric. Big whoop.In the Sixteenth Century, this sh*t was hot news, and really really controversial. Think gay marriage-level passions inflamed. Heliocentrism meant that the SUN and not God's Perfect Creation The Earth was the center of the Universe. Panic! Riots! Thunderings from dimwitted religiosifiers! Is this sounding familiar yet?And the man who ignited the revolution (which really amounted to observing the real world carefully and reporting on his findings) was a lifelong Polish Catholic churchman. That's right, a predecessor of John Paul II was the one who made the whole Church Edifice of lies and superstitions tremble before the might of reality! Go Copernicus! Right?Except he didn't want to do that. He was a scientist, a man who wasn't content to look at the lunar eclipse and say "crikey that's purty" and go on back inside to pray some more. He measured stuff. He worked out mathematical explanations for stuff. He even told a few friends of like mind about his thoughts. And that's what set off the firestorm that still goes on between religion on one side and science on the other. But he was a Churchman, and a darned good and effective one, and he didn't want to rock the boat lest he fall out of it and starve. So he put his papers away, boinked his housekeeper, and prayed a couple times a day. End of revolution...but there were copies floating around and causing sensations...just a matter of time....It was a Lutheran who did it. Wouldn't you know it would be a Protestant, AND a German. So along comes this Protestant German to Poland to look up the writer of the amazing [On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres], which our Lutheran troublemaker has read and is completely blown away by, and tells Canon Copernicus that he mustmustmust publish this marvelous (in the original sense of the word) piece of logic and analysis.Well, we know who won, but it took ages to convince Canon C. to make with the goodies, and he was long dead before the real sh*tstorm hit. Best of all possible outcomes for ol' Copernicus.My Review: Dava Sobel can count on me. I will read, and quite probably enjoy, anything she writes. She's got a knack for finding the interesting angle on stories of greater or lesser public fascination. Her use of research plus imagination is exemplary in its balance.In this book, a beautiful hardcover from Walker & Co., she does something unusual: She writes the story of the German guy, Rheticus, and Copernicus meeting and working together to get the manuscript ready for publication as a play. It's true she won't be getting any Tony awards or getting a production even Off-Off-Broadway, but she wrote a pretty compelling dramedy about the men and their probable conflicts in doing work that simply can't be overestimated in terms of its impact on Western culture. It was a smart move, too, because this way she can't be criticized for making stuff up in the context of non-fiction...she explicitly makes it up, and presents it as fiction, because there are (unsurprisingly) no source documents to write an non-fictional account from.Do *you* take notes of your houseguests' visits just in case future generations might be interested?In the end, this book is the accustomed Sobel experience. It's solidly researched, extensively bibliographized, compendiously endnoted, and charmingly written. It was a pleasure to read. In Walker & Co's capable production and design hands, it's also lovely to look at and easy to read. Bloomsbury, their corporate parent, pays attention to the effect of design on the reading experience, and as a result, the books they publish are always worthy of a moment's reflection and appreciation as objects. So rare in today's world....Very much recommended for history buffs, science readers, and Sobelians like me.
  • (5/5)
    Dava Sobel has done an outstanding job of this biography of Copernicus whose interest in astronomy advanced our understanding of the universe more than any other individual in history.Although Copernicus's life and the myriad facets of his work was well-documented, his meeting with Rheticus must be imagined. Sobel has handled this well by inserting a short play that illustrates their time together. The play is a short read and complements the biographical text well. Rheticus convinced Copernicus to publish his lifelong work On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres.Sobel has taken a complex topic and given the reader a story that is hard to put down. The research was thorough, and she made Copernicus come alive. I recommend this book to those with an interest in history, astronomy, or indeed anyone who has looked up at the stars in wonder.A More Perfect Heaven also includes Copernican chronology, a bibliography, notes on quotations and index. "Faultfinding is of little use and scant profit, for it is the mark of a shameless mind to prefer the role of censorious critic to that of the creative poet. - From Copernicus's Letter Against Werner, June 3, 1524"
  • (3/5)
    An interesting look at the life of Copernicus and the early publication history of his magnum opus, On the Revolution of the Celestial Spheres, which turned the world upside down with its proofs that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Sobel uses illustrations and long quotes from letters and other documents to give an immediate sense of medieval northern Europe, the lives of its mid-level Catholic clergy, and the extent to which the Church felt threatened by and controlled new hypotheses such as the Copernican theory. All this is absorbing, but unfortunately Sobel wrote the history just to give herself a forum to publish a play she'd written, which she has sandwiched into the middle of the history. The play imagines the means whereby the young Lutheran mathematician Rheticus convinced the elderly canon to allow publication of his long-shelved work. If the play had stuck to discussions between the two geniuses it might have been bearable, but instead it conjures up an affair between Rheticus and Copernicus's aide and imagines Copernicus's own relationship with his mistress. An unnecessary and unwelcome intrusion into a serious treatment.Read this for the history, skip the middle 80 pages, and you'll have a rewarding experience. It might also lead you to an interest in some of the other characters - in my case, Rheticus, about whom a recent bio was written.
  • (4/5)
    It's good to see Copernicus getting the headline over Galileo, as most people (based on my exposure to high school physics students) are not aware that it was Copernicus who first proposed the heliocentric theory of the planets. His book, On the Revolutions, was not published until he was on his deathbed, and Galileo took most of the heat, and thus fame, for promoting the idea. Dava Sobel has a good writing style, and I've enjoyed all her books- Planets, Longitude, Galileo's Daughter. A More Perfect Heaven is divided into three sections - the history and biography of Nicholas Copernicus, then a play dramatizing the writing of his book, and finally, the aftermath of his book being published. The history and biography contained a lot of names and facts of life and politics in late 1500s Poland and Europe. As historic and accurate as it was, it was needed to set the characters for the play, "And the Sun Stood Still." The play was a great addition, and while dramatizing nonfiction and putting words in real people that cannot be known is often frowned upon, it makes history come alive, and the facts of the characters were established in part one. After the play, it was the later chapters that I really enjoyed. That is probably because I teach about Kepler, Brahe and Galileo in physics, so I was already familiar with much of their stories. Sobel includes many pictures and diagrams from the era, and the sense of life in Europe was conveyed well, including the font chosen for titles. In Copernicus's day, astrology and astronomy were closed linked and Copernicus tried to separate the prediction stuff out of his planets. I also learned that Copernicus and his star measurements helped to realign the calendar, due to his precise measurements, which was also why his controversial book was never actually banned, because the data was too valuable. Great historical and scientific book.
  • (5/5)
    Dava Sobel has created a most unique biography in her latest book, A More Perfect Heaven, How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. The core to her approach is a fictional interpretation of the true life visit of Rheticus to an aging Copernicus. The account is contained in a two act play contained in Part Two of the book.However, the play, if read as a standalone work of historical fiction would be only mildly interesting and totally lacking in context for the average reader. Ms Sobel remedies this problem with her superb writing skills in the Part One of the book. Part One focuses on the early life of Copernicus up to his becoming a canon of the Catholic church in the Varmia diocese. In this first part of the book, Ms Sobel presents a fascinating look into the life and politics of Copernicus as a learned man of the 16th century. She concisely addresses the implications of the ongoing Protestant reformation and the political turmoil. For middle management of the church the threat of Martin Luther created a high state of paranoia. While Copernicus is known today for his unique astronomical contributions during his life he was valued more for his medical and bureaucratic skills. As Ms. Sobel points out, only a handful of peers were aware of Copernicus' astronomical work. As a canon of the church during the Lutheran paranoia, Copernicus was correctly concerned about heretical nature of his sun-centric universe. With all this background Ms Sobel transitions to her play where she imagines the real life encounter with Rheticus.Part Three of the book completes the story of Copernicus with the publication of his On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres and reaction to the book. For years Copernicus' dearest friend (and clerical supporter), Bishop Giese had urged him to publish his notes. But it was only through the efforts of a youthful Lutheran mathematician, Rheticus, that On the Revolutions was actually published. In the final chapters Ms Sobel clearly summarizes the On the Revolutions relationships with Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler and Galileo Galilei. While obviously not definitive she clearly explains how Copernicus laid the key foundation to the sun-centric solar system model for others to follow.In summary, Dava Sobel has given us a unique treatment to scientific history. Her use of the two-act play gives us a new take on the relationship between Rheticus and Copernicus.
  • (3/5)
    This book is broken into three parts. A prelude, a play and an afterword. I found the play to be excellent and wish that it was the majority of the book. While the prelude and afterword were informative they lacked the flow of Sobels previous books and I was often looking for more explanations and definitions of the many ideas that were presented. This is still a wonderful book and worth reading for anyone who enjoyed Sobels previous works or other books on Copernicus.
  • (4/5)
    Dava Sobel adds to her growing catalog of very readable science history with A More Perfect Heaven, the story of Copernicus and how he turned our view of the universe upside down. As with her other books, she has done meticulous research on her subject, but she is first and foremost a story-teller and doesn't hesitate to fill in the blanks to keep her narrative rolling along. As she notes in an introduction, she originally envisioned writing a play about how the young student Rheticus was able to overcome the reluctance of Copernicus to publish his heliocentric theory, forever removing the notion of Earth as the center of the universe. The play, in fact, sits in the middle of the book as a kind of interlude. She acknowledges that the dialog, characterizations, and plot of the play are pure conjecture. The surrounding narrative tells the larger story of Copernicus' career, working in all the known facts, but gluing everything together with rather more imagined conversations and "could have beens" than is typical for a traditional historical treatment. The fiction to non-fiction line is a bit blurry here, but there's no question it's an interesting and well-told tale.
  • (5/5)
    I did not receive this book through LT Early Reviewers, though I wanted it! When I was awarded a different book, I ordered [A More Perfect Heaven] from my local public library. How wonderful to be the first to read a sparkling new book that will surely be handled by many others!Sobel is such a readable writer. The subject matter sounds so daunting to read...but she is able to inspire the non-mathematician with an appreciation of the complexity of the mathematics without weighing us down with our limitations.Truely, Copernicus was a "man for all seasons," as so many geniuses were able to be in those early centuries. Without the aid of any type of telescope, armed only with a compass, straight edge and an understanding of triangles he was able to begin our ascent to truth. Pretty amazing.I know that I do not understand much of what Copernicus wrote. But I do understand that there are those among us even today who would use Scripture to hammer away at our knowledge of the natural world. How shameful that they, too, would have him unsay his argument for his discoveries: "So vast, without any question, is the divine handiwork of the most excellent Almighty" (235).Sobel writes: "the counter-revolution that sprang up in immediate reaction to Copernicus's ideas also continues to make waves. State and local governments still claim the right to control what can be taught of scientific theories in classrooms and textbooks. A so-called museum in the south-eastern United States compresses the Earth's geological record from 4.5 billion to a biblical few thousand years, and pretends that dinosaurs coexisted with human beings" (234-35).Lest we become too cocky that we have crested the wave of progress and knowledge, let us remember those who would use the Bible as a weapon have not disappeared. Let us not pause in our efforts to free knowledge from artificial constraints. The Divine Source of our Universe[s] is indeed "so vast."
  • (4/5)
    Dava Sobels' "A More Perfect Heaven" is a biography of Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, a history of the development of his theory of a sun-centric solar system, and an engaging look into a Europe on the cusp of transitioning from a dark and paranoid medieval society to an enlightened and brighter renaissance future. While the focus of Sobels' work is her history of Copernicus the man, his science and mathematics, Sobels' biggest victory is her fictionalized drama of how Copernicus' only student, Rheticus, eventually convinced Copernicus to complete his work and share his theory and proofs of a sun-centric universe with the world. I was reticent when I read that Sobel had included a dramatic play smack in the middle of her history. First, I've found plays difficult to read and couldn't imagine how it could seamlessly integrate into Sobels' work. Second...what? A play? In the middle of a history? But it worked. It worked very well as a matter of fact. Sobels' play imagines the interactions between Rheticus, a young mathematics professor from Wittenberg, home of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, and Copernicus in Poland. There's not a lot of action in the drama, so the dialogue-focused interplay successfully blends the historical characterizations into a very believable situation. Sobel peppers the preceding chapters with enough background on medieval Europe of the time as well as the participating characters that the 75 pages or so of the play work extremely well. Surrounding the drama, Sobel serves heaping spoonfuls of a heavily religious dark ages Poland, and medieval astronomy. She best summarizes the dramatic events surrounding Copernicus' work: "The bold plan for astronomical reform that Copernicus conceived and then nurtured over decades in his spare time struck him as the blueprint for the 'marvelous symmetry of the universe'...He proceeded cautiously, first leaking the idea to a few fellow mathematicians, never trying to proselytize. All the while real and bloody revolutions -- the Protestant Reformation, the Peasant Rebellion, warfare with the Teutonic Knights and the Ottoman Turks -- churned around him. There are two elements of Copernicus' being that particularly impressed me. First, he was an extraordinarily literate man. Some of the quotes that Sobel includes in her book paint him in a uniquely poetic light. He wrote, for example, "Among the many various literary and artistic pursuits upon which the natural talents of man are nourished, I think the ones above all to be embraced and pursued with the most loving care concern the most beautiful and worthy objects, most deserving to be known. This is the nature of the discipline that deal with the god-like circular movement of the world and the course of the stars." Second, Copernicus was an extremely detail-oriented individual. If the devil is in the details, then Copernicus, who was schooled in religion and lived in a very religiously oriented society, took that term to heart. Documentation still exists with the exhaustive notations he made while tracking and diagnosing the heavens, as well as his more earth-bound pursuits as an administrator for the Polish government/church. I've read about Galileo before and have always been utterly amazed at the patience and discipline it requires to track the course of the stars and heavenly bodies over the course of years. To remain doggedly at watch every single day, through wars, illness and weather, to gather such a wealth of detailed data reflects tremendous patience, focus and perhaps more than a little obsession. The following was written in an 1878 publication of `Popular Astronomy', "The great merit of Copernicus, and the basis of his claim to the discovery in question, is that he was not satisfied with a mere statement of his views, but devoted a large part of the labor of a life to the demonstration, and thus laced them in such a light as to render their ultimate acceptance inevitable." Copernicus first wrote on his concept of a sun-centered universe in 1510, over 30 years before he would finally find the courage and confidence to publish his full "On the Revolutions." His initial conclusions, Sobel writes, were reached through "intuition and mathematics. No astronomical observations were required." Copernicus wrote, "All spheres surround the Sun as though it were in the middle of all of them, and therefore the center of the universe is near the Sun. What appear to us as motions of the Sun arise not from its motion but from the motion of the Earth and our sphere, with which we revolve about the Sun like any other planet." Sobel writes that "with a wave of his hand, (Copernicus) had made the Earth a planet and set it spinning." So what was Copernicus doing between 1510 and the publishing of his great work (and his death) in 1543, and why was he unable to be part of his work's impact on the world? The spread of Lutheranism had great impact by creating a wide religious schism, spreading fear and limiting Copernicus' comfort in publishing his work. He was a very practical man and very attuned to the tone of church and politics, and how closely connected they were. Sobel writes, "With his book virtually complete by 1535, Copernicus lost courage. He worried that his labored calculations and tables would not yield the perfect match with planetary positions that he had aimed to achieve. He feared the public reaction. He empathized with the ancient sage Pythagoras, who had communicated his most beautiful ideas only to kinsmen and friends, and only by word of mouth. Despite the decade of effort invested in the text, Copernicus eschewed publication. If his theory appeared in print, he said, he would be laughed off the stage." So during this time, he took a whole lot of astronomical measurements. There was not an eclipse, full moon, or shift in the position of the stars that Copernicus missed and documented. He was building his case that the Earth spun, and it and the other planets revolved around the Sun. Copernicus was also a relatively highly placed administrator in the Polish government/church. Sobel points to extant documents that show his judgements in various cases regarding local law and commerce. Naturally, everything he touched was exhaustively detailed. He was also a well-known and respected mathematician. Pope Leo X called on theologians and astronomers to help correct the flaws in the Julian calendar that were pushing Christian holidays further and further from their traditional timeframes. Historical documents confirm Copernicus' role in helping to correct the calendar, but there exists nothing more specific. Sobel concludes that, "He held off publishing his theory for so long that when his great book, 'On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres', finally appeared in print, its author breathed his last. Copernicus never heard any of the criticism, or acclaim, that attended 'On the Revolutions.' Decades after his death, when the first telescopic discoveries lent credence to his intuitions, the Holy Office of the Inquisition condemned his efforts...The philosophical conflict and change in perception that his ideas engendered are sometimes referred to as the Copernican Revolution." Sobels' book is enjoyable. Her narrative approach to writing history addresses the nuanced details important in a serious work, while maintaining readability throughout. There are stretches of dry writing where Copernicus orbits the political, religious and military intrigue of Middle Ages Poland. This is a relatively minor complaint of Sobels' tightly written history. And don't fear the authors' fiction. It reads terrifically well while incorporating humor, history and believability.I was provided this book as part of Amazon's Vine program.
  • (4/5)
    The story of Copernicus and Kepler from the XVI century is oddly relevant in the USA of the XXI century. These great men followed the facts to their ultimate conclusion, even though the facts did not agree with their beliefs or even the accepted common sense of the time. They put scientific honesty and facts above dogma, something that is very rare in this age when people are willfully ignorant and proud of their ignorance and label anything they don't agree with as "fake".

    Also interesting is the life of Copernicus himself, who is claimed by both Poles and Germans. In a time when nationality was secondary to regional and even local loyalties, this controversy is only a modern occurrence. The author of the book comes unambiguously on the German side and I think the facts are clear that Copernicus was mostly German. Even though the nationality of his father is disputable, his mother was definitely German, his lover Anna Shilling was German, his best friend Tiedeman Giese was German and his only pupil Johannes Rheticus was German. Most importantly all that he ever wrote was in either Latin or German. It's hard to argue that Copernicus was Polish other than to point out that city of his birth had passed to the Kingdom of Poland seven years before, but was still a German speaking town.

    Overall this little book is well worth the time to read it, although I think the play that the author includes as a filler would have been better left off.
  • (4/5)
    I remember when I was a kid, and we first learned in school about Copernicus and how he discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun and not the other way around, and how he was vilified for it by pretty much everyone. At the time, it seemed incredible that anyone could ever have doubted what now seems obvious to us, but of course the status quo seemed equally obvious to people in the 15th and 16th centuries when he first proposed his wacky idea. I wanted to know more about how Copernicus' discovery came about, so I picked up this book in a Kindle daily deal some time ago. I did learn a lot, including that Copernicus was actually not the first person to espouse the heliocentric theory — some Greek dude named Aristarchus back in the 3rd century B.C. had that honor, which people promptly forgot once Ptolemy (another Greek dude, natch) started writing and promoting his geocentric viewpoint that the Earth was the center of the universe. Despite some obvious flaws in Ptolemy's calculations his writings were considered settled science before Copernicus came along.So why was Copernicus' pronouncement so controversial? As Sobel tells it, it all comes down to the Bible, specifically a verse in which Joshua commands the sun to stay still in the sky, and it does. So clearly the sun must revolve around the earth, right? Complicating the whole situation was the schism in the Catholic Church when Martin Luther made a revolutionary pronouncement of his own, although the idea that Copernicus was full of horse manure was actually one of the few things that the Pope and Luther still agreed on. Fortunately for Copernicus, he shuffled off this mortal coil about 10 minutes after his book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres came off the printing press in 1543, so he never had to face the scorn and condemnation that he feared.But those who came after him did, including most famously Galileo Galilei, who didn't get fully rehabilitated within the Catholic Church until 1992 when Pope John Paul II issued a mea culpa about that whole "persecuted and imprisoned by the Inquisition" thing. Mistakes were made, as an American president once famously said.All in all, I learned a lot from this book. In particular, I have a much clearer sense of the religious and political scene in Poland specifically and Europe generally during the 15th and 16th centuries. Copernicus was a canon in the Catholic Church, appointed by his uncle the bishop, but he wasn't a priest and didn't celebrate Mass or any other religious ceremonies. He mostly traveled around and settled land disputes and collected rent money, along with conducting a torrid affair with his housekeeper (that last one is probably the most priest-like thing he did, I suspect).I still don't really understand exactly how old Copernicus made his revolutionary discovery or indeed any of the specific implications that follow the basic fact of a heliocentric cosmos, but we could as easily chalk that up to my scientific illiteracy as to any fault in Sobel's writing.I could have done without the two-act play embedded within the book in which Sobel imagines the young Lutheran mathematician Rheticus visiting Copernicus in Poland and convincing him that he must publish his theory and damn the consequences (oh, and also seducing the boy sent by the bishop to spy on Copernicus, just in case the whole thing wasn't already weird enough), though. I'd still cautiously recommend the book to anyone wanting to know more about Copernicus or the birth of true scientific astronomy.
  • (1/5)
    Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven has called attention to Copernicus’ historic scientific findings and the events leading to their publication. Unfortunately, her account is marred by inclusion of a "play" that obscures the relevant history while portraying events that never happened. In a monumental blunder, she has her fictional Rheticus engage in child abuse while her fictional Copernicus virtually turns a blind eye to his malfeasance. Her misguided attempt to entertain her readers is an astonishing lapse of judgement that irreparably harms the book. The play in question is not an afterthought, but the main rationale for the book. As Sobel reveals in the book’s introduction, she had written an 80 page play to dramatize how she imagined a key event in Copernicus’ life. The rest of this book was written as a vehicle for the play. While the blending of fact and fiction is controversial in its own right, Ms. Sobel’s attempt is clumsy, amateurish, and a gross libel on the names of two eminent scientists.The centerpiece of Ms Sobel’s account is the historic collaboration between Copernicus and the young mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus. The latter had heard of the unpublished work of the aging Copernicus, and in spring of 1539 traveled to Poland to become his student. Rheticus published a “First Account” of Copernicus’ theory in 1540, and over the next two years of studying with him, convinced him to publish his full account. Following Rheticus’ final departure, Copernicus arranged to have his book sent to Nuremberg to be printed under Rheticus’ supervision. The famous De Revolutionibus was published prior to Copernicus' death in 1543. According to legend, a copy was delivered to the dying Copernicus, who awoke from a coma, looked at his book, and expired. Sobel presents a serviceable recounting of the major events, told with style. She excels at presenting the historical events in the context of the political and religious turmoil of 16th century Europe. As a resident of Lutheran Germany, Rheticus risked his freedom (if not his life) in traveling to Catholic Poland to work with the famed astronomer. Given the role that Rheticus played in assisting Copernicus to publish, the reader is forced to wonder whether Die Revolutionibus would have ever come to light without the young mathematician’s help.As for the play, which occupies the central 1/3 of the book, it is an amateurish farce that simplifies, conflates, and ignores the very historical events Sobel took pains to recount elsewhere. In her imagined account, Rheticus is hardly a pupil -- rather, he guides a great scientist more than 40 years his senior in how to write his work and advises him on how to ensure it passes muster with the political authorities. In Scene xv, Rheticus is being forced to leave, and literally tries to wrestle the book away from Copernicus in order to take it to be published. At Copernicus’ resistance, he assents to taking a portion away – presumably this is to become the 1540 “First Account.” The scene ends with Copernicus suffering a stroke. The next scene, the final one, has Copernicus on his deathbed, comatose from his stroke, but reviving in time to receive a copy of his published book. The play misrepresents the events, because years must pass between these two scenes. During this time, Rheticus travels back to work with Copernicus for another two years, followed by his final departure. And so, three years are constricted into a few months, the successive publication of aspects of Copernicus' work is ignored, and events are invented wholesale for entertainment purposes.And then there’s the unavoidable issue of character assassination. First, to spice things up, Sobel gives Copernicus a mistress. Second, over the course of scenes 9 through 15, Sobel has her fictional Rheticus engage in the pederastic seduction of a 14 year old houseboy named Franz. After episodes of embracing and bottom- fondling , the subplot culminates in the two being discovered in bed together, unclothed and kissing, by Copernicus himself. Little Franz scampers away in fear. Rheticus: You’ve known all along, haven’t you?Copernicus: I wasn’t sure.R: But you suspected. C: I prayed that my suspicions were unfounded. R: Now you know the truthC: Yes.R: And you despise meC: No Joachim. Neither do I judge you.R: You needn’t pretend to understand.C: But I can no longer protect you. R: From myself?....C: You’ve got to get out of here. Go now, before anything else happens.What is there to say? Even for historical fiction this is far beyond the pale. The reader, if his critical facilities are not too numbed by disgust and outrage at the libel of Rheticus, will note that Sobel’s Copernicus (a canon in the Catholic church) adopts a 21st century tolerance of homosexuality, seeks to protect the perpetrator of child abuse, and gives no thought to the young victim. Historical anachronism is the least of her errors. To view her account as an ironic commentary on institutionalized pederasty of the contemporary church is most likely to give the author more credit than she deserves. This is surely one of the most ill-conceived literary devices of our time. The so-called "play" contained in this work violates minimal standards of acceptability for a respectable work of history. It irreparably damages what could have been a serviceable historical account. ____________Note: Many years later, following a mental breakdown, Rheticus was accused by a person of having had carnal relations with a 17-18 year old male. Whether or not he committed the act in question is not known. It should have no bearing on the libelous, fictional episode of child abuse invented by the author.