In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer and "Catholic canon at the Frauenburg [Poland] cathedral," published De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), one of the world's greatest and most revolutionary scientific works, explaining that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the reverse. Yet many have wondered if this dense and very technical book was actually read by the author's contemporaries. Arthur Koestler, in his bestselling history of astronomy, The Sleepwalkers, called it "the book that nobody read." Gingerich, a Harvard astrophysicist and historian of science, proves Koestler wrong. Gingerich went on a quest to track down every extant copy of the original work, and he does a fabulous job of documenting virtually everything there is to know about its first and second (1566) editions, conclusively demonstrating the impact it had on early astronomical thought. As thoroughly engaging as a good detective story, the book recreates the excitement Gingerich himself felt as he traveled the world examining and making sense of centuries-old manuscripts. There is a rich discussion of techniques for assessing treasures of this sort. Handwriting analysis of marginalia, for example, enabled Gingerich to determine who owned many of the copies and to document how critical new ideas spread across Europe and beyond, while an examination of watermarks and glue helps demonstrate whether books have been altered. Providing great insight into 16th-century science, the book should be equally enjoyed by readers interested in the history of science and in bibliophilia. 8 color, 35 b&w illus.
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*Starred Review* Little did Harvard astrophysicist Gingerich know that the day he happened upon a heavily annotated first edition of Nicolaus Copernicus' seminal work, De Revolutionibus, or On the Revolutions, a 30-year obsession was born. Although dubbed "the book nobody read" by Arthur Koestler, clearly this copy of the tome that placed the sun, rather than the earth, at the center of our spot in the cosmos, was read with singular avidity. Were other copies as full of marginalia? And if so, who was writing what on these highly technical pages? As cogent and companionable as he is erudite, Gingerich renders even the most esoteric details clear and compelling as he vividly chronicles a quest that took him all over Europe, what was then the Soviet Union, Egypt, China, and Australia in pursuit of 600 original copies of this world-altering book. Ultimately, he uncloaked the "invisible college," a coterie of scientific pioneers including Tycho Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo, who carefully annotated Copernicus' text. Gingerich also clarifies exactly what Copernicus got right and wrong and why, and offers fascinating insights into sixteenth-century book production, the religious reception of heliocentrism, and the dark side of the rare-book world in an unprecedented and enlivening tale of scholarly sleuthing, scientific revolution, and purposeful bibliomania. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
What an amazing tale of history and intrique. The years and research that went into this book are almost unbelievable. Read morePublished on Feb. 21 2013 by Astrokeener
In 1970, Owen Gingerich set out to survey every surviving copy of Copernicus's book. His journey took him around the world and, eventually, took thirty years to complete. Read morePublished on May 18 2007 by Jennifer Cameron-Smith
A respected historian of science, Owen Gingerich provides not only a fascinating introduction into the reception of Copernicus's De Revolutionibus but also a terrific narrative... Read morePublished on April 12 2004
"Gee gosh golly" anecdotal intelectual flabbyness, mostly centering on "I," and written in flacid prose. Would award no star at all if that were possible. Read morePublished on March 26 2004 by Michael Robinson