First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution

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In May, 1539, a young, German mathematician named Georg Joachim Rheticus traveled hundreds of miles across Europe in the hopes of meeting and spending a few days with the legendary astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, in Frombork, Poland. Two and a half years later, Rheticus was still there, fascinated by what he was discovering, but largely engaged in trying to convince Copernicus to publish his masterwork—De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavens), the first book to posit that the sun was the center of ...
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The First Copernican: Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution

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Overview

In May, 1539, a young, German mathematician named Georg Joachim Rheticus traveled hundreds of miles across Europe in the hopes of meeting and spending a few days with the legendary astronomer, Nicolas Copernicus, in Frombork, Poland. Two and a half years later, Rheticus was still there, fascinated by what he was discovering, but largely engaged in trying to convince Copernicus to publish his masterwork—De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavens), the first book to posit that the sun was the center of the universe. That he was finally able to do so just as Copernicus was dying became a turning point for science and civilization. That he then went on to a legendary career of his own—he founded the field of trigonometry, for example—will be one of the many surprises in this eye-opening book, which will restore Rheticus to his rightful place in the history of science.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The publication of Copernicus's theories on the structure of the solar system is a touchstone of the scientific revolution. But as Danielson shows in this fascinating account, Copernicus's work might have been lost without the assistance of a passionate young scholar named Georg Joachim Rheticus. Born in 1514, Rheticus, a German doctor's son, became a protege of the mathematician Melanchthon, who said the youth was "born to study mathematics." Made a professor at the University of Wittenberg at the age of 22, Rheticus took a leave of absence in 1538 to track down Copernicus in Poland. Rheticus had seen a copy of a narrowly circulated short paper by Copernicus about a solar system with a stationary Sun and moving Earth, and had become obsessed with the idea. Although in his twilight years, the elder scientist welcomed the younger man, who persuaded him to pull his notes together to create his paradigm-breaking work, On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres. Drawing on academic records and papers, Danielson, a professor of English at the University of British Columbia, gracefully recounts the compelling story of a scientist whose "sole interest was in reflecting, not deflecting, the light that shone from the mind of his teacher." B&w illus. (Nov.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A Copernican scholar, Danielson (English, Univ. of British Columbia; editor, The Book of the Cosmos) here profiles the mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus (1514-74), who studied with Copernicus in the last years of that great man's life and oversaw the publication of his mentor's paradigm-shifting De Revolutionibus. Working with a rather thin historical record, Danielson reconstructs with some success a life of the 16th-century scholar by weaving in material from well-documented events of the time, records of contemporaries, and Rheticus's letters that were translated by the author. This portrait of a peripatetic and gifted Renaissance scholar and of the European universities and scholarly communities that embraced him provides a much-needed chapter in the Copernican canon. The importance of Rheticus in ensuring the publication of Copernicus's work is well established, and this biography complements Owen Gingerich's excellent The Book Nobody Read, which traced the physical progress of De Revolutionibus through the scientific communities of Europe. Recommended for academic and large public libraries. Sara Rutter, Univ. of Hawaii at Manoa Lib. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A biography of the man who acted as midwife for Copernicus' Revolutions, the book that transformed astronomy. Danielson (English/Univ. of British Columbia) begins by explaining Rheticus' role in the publication of the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. The son of a German doctor and his Italian wife, Rheticus (1514-74) was born in the Alpine town of Feldkirch. In 1528, after his father (also Georg) was executed for stealing from patients, his mother sent Rheticus to the University of Wittenberg. Under the guidance of Luther's humanist disciple, Philip Melancthon, Rheticus excelled at math and astronomy. In 1536, he was appointed professor of mathematics. But two years later, he began a prolonged leave of absence-which, by 1539, brought him to Frauenberg, now part of Poland. There, he sought out Copernicus and became his first and only student. After two years of working with the older astronomer, Rheticus circulated a summary of Copernicus' theories, then took the manuscript of Revolutions to Nuremberg for publication, and finally became the new cosmology's fervent advocate. His subsequent career did not go smoothly. He racked up unexcused absences from his teaching post and, later, after being accused of sodomy, was forced to flee Wittenberg. In later years, he practiced medicine, pursuing the new theories of Paracelsus while neglecting his mathematical studies, for which his reputation remained high. Ironically, it was in his last years that a young student, Valentin Otto, took the role Rheticus had taken with Copernicus, persuading him to return to his magnum opus-the first book of trigonometric functions. An illuminating picture of the intellectual and culturallife of Germany as the new science made its impact.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802715302
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 10/31/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Dennis Danielson is a professor of English at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC. He has served as a member of the History-of-Astonomy Committee for the Adler Planetarium and Astronomy Museum in Chicago, and is a member of the Historical Astronomy division of the American Astronomical Society. His articles have appeared in the American Journal of Physics and the Journal for the History of Astronomy. He is the editor of the acclaimed anthology of cosmological writings, The Book of the Cosmos. He lives in Vancouver, BC.

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