On Tycho's Island: Tycho Brahe and his Assistants, 1570-1601 Paperback – Feb 5 2009
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From Publishers Weekly
Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601) became his era's "patron of science par excellence": he used his smarts, aristocratic status and access to Denmark's king, Frederick II, to turn the island of Hven into Uraniborg, a community built for the advancement of arts and sciences, staffed with scholars invited from all over Europe. Christianson, a historian at Iowa's Luther College, explains how Brahe built Uraniborg with labor from Hven's farm village of Tuna; what exalted friendships Brahe established, and what his Latin verse says about that extended familia; how Brahe's complex household, observatory, printing press, mapmaking projects and chemistry labs operated; and how the Uraniborg group disseminated its methods, ideas and students across northern Europe. Because Brahe's wife was a commoner, his sons could not inherit all his privileges; he spent much of the 1590s on schemes to ensure that Uraniborg would survive him. But his plans crashed under Frederick's absolutist successor, who persecuted Brahe's friends and drove him along with his enterprise to German exile. Christianson devotes 130 pages to a "Biographical Directory" of Uraniborg associates, including Brahe's most famous collaborator, solar-system theorist Johannes Kepler. If the brief sketches there seem aimed at fellow historians, the front half of the book will certainly interest a broader audience: Christianson's narrative combines the intrigue of Reformation courts with the excitement of early modern science. It was in this period that experimental methods and European technology found their real launching pads. Without Brahe, Brahe's friends and his citadel of research, such developments would have happened elsewhere and differently--if at all. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
From Kirkus Reviews
We think of Big Science, with heavy government support and huge teams working on long-term projects, as typically modern, but Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe was thinking big in the late 16th century. While Copernicus laid the theoretical foundation for the new astronomy, it was Tycho (1546-1601) who brought it to fruition with his meticulous observations and the regular publication of his results. A Danish noble educated in German universities, Tycho inherited landed wealth, but the life of a courtier did not interest him. In 1575, he convinced King Frederick II to give him as his fief the island of Hven, where he constructed a world-class observatory, with numerous instruments he designed and built himself. Tycho's plans involved considerable social upheaval on Hven. The project drafted the local peasants and fishermen for ``boon labor,'' and brought in specialists from all over Europe. At its peak, Uraniborg (as the science center was called) supported not only Tycho's large family and servants, but a substantial group of assistants. After a day's work, the extended family of Tychos scholars would gather for a communal dinner, at which they would improvise Latin verse, drink deeply, and discuss their findings in the light of neo-Platonist philosophy. Christianson (History/Luther College) puts Tycho's scientific achievements in the context of the daily life, intellectual milieu, and courtly politics of the era. He provides full scholarly apparatus, including short biographies of Tycho's assistantssome, like Johannes Kepler, famous in their own right, others comparatively obscurea useful glossary of technical terms, and numerous illustrations. Despite his often dry style, Christianson provides a double share of fascinating insights into the era and the career of perhaps the greatest astronomer of the pre-telescope era. A gold mine for anyone interested in one of the giants of Renaissance science. -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.See all Product Description
Top Customer Reviews
Diane C. Donovan
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There's a much larger theme, however, in this book: the funding of Tycho's research. Some antagonists of proactive government these days are fond of claiming that great science in the past was achieved without grants and subsidies from government. Yes, perhaps on some occasions, but Tycho's work was massively funded by the Danish monarchy and its bureaucracy, and later by other princely German governments. Tycho spent as much time and energy supplicating government funds as any modern scientist spends on grant applications. Big science can be expensive. In Tycho's case, no capitalist would have had the slightest interest; nothing from which money could be made could possibly have been expected from the tables of observations from Hven, published on government funds. No explicit argument is thrust upon the reader, suggesting that investment of tax money in basic science is a proper function of any government that can afford it, but that is the obvious implicit conclusion.
Tycho died in Germany, after an all-night "banquet" with his princely patron. The cause of death at the time was considered to be the painful holding of his urine due to the protocol of not mincturating before your liege lord. One can only wonder... Was he suffering from kidney problems, or perhaps in the later stages of prostate cancer? In any case, Tycho has long been one of my personal heroes. In the winter of 1966, I rode a motorcycle all the way from Rome to Denmark just to visit Hven. The ruins of Tycho's observatory turned out to be little more than a few foundation stones. Hven, by the way, is owned by Sweden, a point of huge irritation to the Danes.
Diane C. Donovan
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