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Kepler [Paperback]

John Banville
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Aug. 27 1997
A historical novel based on the life and work of Johannes Kepler, the great astronomer of the 17th-century, which was winner of "The Guardian" Fiction Prize in 1981. The author also wrote "Doctor Copernicus" which won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1976 and "The Newton Letter".

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Review

When the solution came, it came, as always, through a back door of the mind, hesitating shyly, an announcing angel dazed by the immensity of its journey."

-- from Kepler

In a brilliant illumination of the Renaissance mind, the acclaimed Irish novelist John Banville re-creates the life of Johannes Kepler and his incredible drive to chart the orbits of the planets and the geometry of the universe.

Wars, witchcraft, and disease rage throughout Europe. And for this court mathematician, vexed by domestic strife, appalled by the religious upheavals that have driven him from exile to exile, and vulnerable to the whims of his eccentric patrons, astronomy is a quest for some form of divine order. For all of the mathematical precision of his exploration, though, it is a seemingly elusive quest until he makes one glorious and profoundly human discovery.

"Narrative art...at a positively symphonic level."

-- The Guardian

From the Back Cover

When the solution came, it came, as always, through a back door of the mind, hesitating shyly, an announcing angel dazed by the immensity of its journey."

-- from Kepler

In a brilliant illumination of the Renaissance mind, the acclaimed Irish novelist John Banville re-creates the life of Johannes Kepler and his incredible drive to chart the orbits of the planets and the geometry of the universe.

Wars, witchcraft, and disease rage throughout Europe. And for this court mathematician, vexed by domestic strife, appalled by the religious upheavals that have driven him from exile to exile, and vulnerable to the whims of his eccentric patrons, astronomy is a quest for some form of divine order. For all of the mathematical precision of his exploration, though, it is a seemingly elusive quest until he makes one glorious and profoundly human discovery.

"Narrative art...at a positively symphonic level."

-- The Guardian --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Historical Fiction July 10 2010
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
The power of good historical fiction lies in its ability to permit the reader the freedom to delve further into the history to discover a web of other stories lurking amongst the weeds of a teeming humanity. Banville's biographical sketch of the life and times of Johann Kepler, the imperial mathematician in the 17th century Hapsburg court, is no exception. If you choose to take up this little study on the life of one of the astronomical giants of all time - Corpenicus, Galileo and Hawkings included - be prepared to deal with some big ideas, unique personalities, and plenty of issues. Making it easier for you is Banville's great command and sense of language as he discusses some very technically intriguing concepts. Kepler, like his mentor Brahe, was a big-picture thinker with a gift for observing and compiling intricate details through careful observance. I found a number of very attractive features about this novel that may make it worth your valuable time as a reader:
A. Banville more than adequately describes the historical context of the story in all its grandeur and pathos: Europe is about to become embroiled in the Thirty Years War, one of the most devastating conflicts of modern times;
B. Banville provides a useful background to the Kepler family of German Lutheran stock; this account leaves you with a very strong impression about what it meant to be often found on the wrong side of a religious debate;
C. The reader is taken through the rigorous process by which Kepler pursued his studies of interplanetary movement; here was a man who was truly devoted to understanding how the positioning of the celestial bodies impacts our earthly existence. Mathematical calculations by way of tables formed a good portion of this inquiry;
D.
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Music of the Spheres Aug. 10 2001
Format:Paperback
John Banville takes his astonomical fiction "Doctor Copernicus" to the next stage in "Kepler." Both books are powerful feats of the imagination, in which Banville attempts to re-create that curious and pregnant stage in history when the medieval world was giving way to the first stirrings of modernity. Amid the tumult of the Thirty Years War, which would have have such a large impact on the future of Europe and indeed the entire world, an equally momentous change was taking place in the sciences. Alchemy and astrology still rule, but the natural sciences and astronomy are gradually coming into their own. Johannes Kepler builds on the insights of Copernicus and the observations of Tycho Brahe to create new theories of planetary motion that reinforce and are themselves strengthened by the work of Galileo. Banville has created a multi-dimensioned work, part picaresque, part epistolary novel, part flashback, in which Kepler struggles past politics, religious discord, family distractions and war to seek out the celestial harmonies that he is convinced are there for the discovering. "Kepler" is not the greatest of Banville's novels, but that still makes it a very good one indeed.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Nice Progression From �Dr. Copernicus� Dec 24 2000
Format:Paperback
John Banville's, "Dr. Copernicus", was excellent in its entirety, and sections of the work were exceptional. "Kepler" which is a sequel in a Historical sense, may not match the former for its consistency of excellence, however it is still a very good novel, it takes the work of Copernicus another step, and is a piece of work that is 5 star material when compared to much of contemporary writing. The four star ranking is only relative to, "Dr. Copernicus".
The idea of whether these early stargazers believed their work documented truth or merely supported what they observed is taken a step further with Kepler and his work. When Kepler and his peers were working, mathematical proof was becoming the essence of what they would eventually publish. Work that appeared to explain what was seen was no longer enough, proving it to oneself and one's peers was the new test. One of the great enigmas that Kepler sought to solve was the orbit of Mercury. His findings were to change the Copernican view of the Universe, while Galileo was extending the very reach of it.
The science, and the math employed are raised a couple of steps from the previous novel, and are part of why I liked this work less. Understanding complex ideas should not be brought down to such simplistic levels so that no effort to understand is required, and whatever is learned is of little use as it relates to the true and complete idea. I always enjoy a writer that can explain complex theory in a manner that allows an inquisitive mind to be challenged, and the science enjoyed. In "Kepler", this did not happen the majority of the time. So the reader must just take on faith what is said, or study some pretty advanced geometry.
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