A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

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Overview

During the 1530s, rumors began to spread throughout Europe of a potentially revolutionary theory of how the heavens worked emanating from a small city in Poland. Its architect was a Polish cleric named Nicolaus Copernicus. Around 1514, Copernicus had written and hand-copied an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of our universe, with the planets, including the Earth, revolving about it. Titled his Commentariolus, it circulated among a very few ...

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A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

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Overview

During the 1530s, rumors began to spread throughout Europe of a potentially revolutionary theory of how the heavens worked emanating from a small city in Poland. Its architect was a Polish cleric named Nicolaus Copernicus. Around 1514, Copernicus had written and hand-copied an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he placed the Sun, not the Earth, at the center of our universe, with the planets, including the Earth, revolving about it. Titled his Commentariolus, it circulated among a very few astronomers. Over the next two decades Copernicus expanded his theory through hundreds of sightings, leading to a secretive manuscript whose existence tantalized mathematicians and scientists throughout Europe. In 1539 a young German mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, traveled to Frombork to meet Copernicus; months later he departed with the manuscript for the book that would change the way we understand our place in the universe. Rheticus arranged for the publication of De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)-legend has it Copernicus received a copy on his deathbed-and the book became one of the greatest change agents in history.

In her graceful, compelling style, Dava Sobel chronicles the history of the Copernican Revolution, relating the story of astronomy from Aristotle to the Middle Ages. In its midst will be her play, And the Sun Stood Still, imagining the dialogue that would have transpired between Rheticus and Copernicus in their months together. As she achieved with her bestsellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Sobel expands the bounds of science writing, giving us an unforgettable portrait of scientific achievement.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble

Let bestselling author Dava Sobel (Longitude; Galileo's Daughter) herself tells the story: "As a young man, Copernicus rearranged the cosmos to put the Sun, rather than the Earth, at its hub. Then he concealed the theory for thirty years, fearful of ridicule from his mathematician peers. But when his unexpected guest arrived, eager to learn the novel planetary order from its source, the aging Copernicus agreed to end his silence. The youth stayed on for two years, helped his mentor prepare the long neglected manuscript for publication, and then hand-carried it several hundred miles to the printer."

Library Journal
Author of such engrossing international best sellers as Longitude, Sobel has the knowledge and writerly grace to explain what Copernicus accomplished—and how youthful German mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus convinced him to publish On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres and change the world. A book on science and personality that should intrigue us all; with a 14-city tour.
Kirkus Reviews

Sobel (The Planets, 2005, etc.) offers another meaty-while-mellifluous story of science.

The author elegantly fashions the life of Copernicus as a two-act play bracketed by historically documented narratives that cover the periods before and after the arrival of Georg Joachim Rheticus at Copernicus's Polish doorstep in 1539. Some 30 years earlier, Copernicus had roughed out a heliocentric theory of the universe and quietly distributed it to a number of mathematicians. Word of it reached the ears of Rheticus, a 25-year-old professor of mathematics at the university in Wittenberg. He arrived at Copernicus's house as an "unexpected guest" and an altogether problematical one: a Lutheran during a time of anti-heretical fervor. Sobel draws Copernicus as a devout Catholic, but not unsympathetic to the Lutherans; he reluctantly agreed to Rheticus staying on when the youth awakened in him the desire to finish his great work and get it published. Sobel presents an illuminating piece of work, bringing to life the old man and the young man's days spent together and in particular Rheticus' coming to terms, the bending of his mind, around Copernicus's theory, which was more radical than he understood. Readers are fit squarely in Rheticus' shoes via Sobel's neat act of transport, there to share his bafflement and resistance. The book closes with the tale of the fate ofOn the Revolutions; just as Copernicus had worried, it dismayed the hidebound and the "babblers, who claim to be judges of astronomy, although completely ignorant of the subject...such men are not above twisting some passage of Scripture to their purpose, to censure me."

A liquid entertainment of choice passages on the thoughts and deeds of Copernicus.

Mike Brown
Dava Sobel describes [Copernicus's] life and his legacy in her enjoyable A More Perfect Heaven…a delightful immersion into tumultuous times
—The Washington Post
Sam Kean
Minus Rheticus, Copernicus could have become another Pierre de Fermat or Pythagoras—someone who teased us with whiffs of big ideas, but died leaving more questions than answers about what he actually understood. Almost 500 years later, no one knows what argument or plea or even taunt made Copernicus face himself and say, I must publish. But Sobel supplies a plausible, and stirring, version of his transformation.
—The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802717931
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 9/27/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 781,208
  • Product dimensions: 8.56 (w) x 5.76 (h) x 1.04 (d)

Meet the Author

Dava Sobel is the acclaimed author of the internationally bestselling titles Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, The Illustrated Longitude, and The Planets. She lives in East Hampton, New York.

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Table of Contents

Maps xi

"To the Reader, Concerning … This Work" xiii

Part 1 Prelude

Chapter 1 Moral, Rustic, and Amorous Epistles 3

Chapter 2 The Brief Sketch 17

Chapter 3 Leases of Abandoned Farmsteads 29

Chapter 4 On the Method of Minting Money 41

Chapter 5 The Letter Against Werner 52

Chapter 6 The Bread Tariff 66

Part 2 Interplay

"And the Sun Stood Still" ACT I 85

"And the Sun Stood Still" ACT II 131

Part 3 Aftermath

Chapter 7 The First Account 163

Chapter 8 On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres 179

Chapter 9 The Basel Edition 189

Chapter 10 Epitome of Copernican Astronomy 202

Chapter 11 Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief Systems of the World, Ptolemaic and Copernican 214

Chapter 12 An Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus 226

Thanksgiving 237

Copernican Chronology 239

Notes on the Quotations 247

Bibliography 257

Illustration Credits 263

Index 265

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 8 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 2, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Creative and Readable History of Copernicus and Theory of Sun-Centered Universe

    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.

    Surrounding the drama, Sobel serves heaping spoonfuls of a heavily religious dark ages Poland, and medieval astronomy.

    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.

    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.

    This book was provided to me through Amazon's Vine program.

    7 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 15, 2011

    Excellent read

    While expecting a detailed review of how Copernicus discovered the sun was indeed the center of our universe I was presented with his huge challenges in providing scientific proof in an age of strict adherence to the Bible. Makes on wonder what humans could have accomplished with a more open mind.

    3 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 9, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    A Terrific Image of Copernicus

    A More Per­fect Heaven: How Coper­ni­cus Rev­o­lu­tion­ized the Cos­mos by Dava Sobel is part fic­tion part non-fiction book. The book includes a play in two acts in the middle.

    It is 1514 and Pol­ish monk Nico­laus Coper­ni­cus has the ini­tial out­line for his helio­cen­tric the­ory in which he defies the norms of soci­ety and church by plac­ing the sun in the cen­ter of the uni­verse. Coper­ni­cus¿ book is long and detailed, yet unpublished.

    A young Ger­man math­e­mati­cian named Georg Joachim Rheti­cus comes to study under Coper­ni­cus hear­ing about his genius. Sev­eral years later the young man leaves his men­tor and tries to arrange the man­u­script to be published.

    A More Per­fect Heaven: How Coper­ni­cus Rev­o­lu­tion­ized the Cos­mos by Dava Sobel is a very read­able book about reclu­sive cleric Nico­laus Coper­ni­cus. The his­tor­i­cal nar­ra­tive and intro­duc­tion (for me) to the Poland Coper­ni­cus lived in were very interesting.

    I am fas­ci­nated by writ­ings about these super-geniuses which have changed the world we live in, stood up to norms and the effects of their dis­cov­er­ies still affect our daily lives. Part of me knows that I will never under­stand their actual writ­ings, most of it looks like Greek to me and, of course, some of it is in actual Greek.

    "[T]he 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".

    The author was also hav­ing fun with this book, smack in the mid­dle is a two-act play called And the Sun Stood Still which cap­tures the inter­ac­tion between Coper­ni­cus and hi stu­dent, the math­e­mati­cian Johann Joachim Rheti­cus. Before the play the author writes about Coper­ni­cus¿ life before meet­ing Rheti­cus; after the play the author writes about the decline on Coper­ni­cus after Rheti­cus has left.

    When I started read­ing the play I thought of skip­ping it ¿ I¿m not much for plays ¿ but Sobel¿s writ­ing man­aged to pull it off. The inter­ac­tion between Coper­ni­cus and Rheti­cus, along with the his­tor­i­cal back­ground pro­vided, actu­ally added to the book even though the author said she wanted to pub­lish the play alone. I think the author¿s edi­tor made a wise choice by includ­ing the his­tor­i­cal background.

    You won¿t learn much about the sci­ence and math­e­mat­ics of astrol­ogy in this book. How­ever you will get a ter­rific image of the man we know as Coper­ni&

    2 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    This is a great book; I bought it during my tour of Poland, incl

    This is a great book; I bought it during my tour of Poland, including Torun. I just could not stop reading it! Dava Sobel did a fantastic job in the research of historical facts. This book also helped me understand the different fates between Copernicus and Galilei. I highly recommend this book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 20, 2012

    Very enjoyable reading..couldn't put it down

    Enjoyed the historical detail and the way that the characters were brought to life. Dava writes beautifully.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted December 13, 2013

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    Posted November 17, 2013

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    Posted September 9, 2013

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