A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos

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by Dava Sobel
     
 

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By 1514, the reclusive cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had written and hand-copied an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he defied common sense and received wisdom to place the sun, not the earth, at the center of our universe, and set the earth spinning among the other planets. Over the next two decades, Copernicus expanded his theory through hundreds

Overview

By 1514, the reclusive cleric Nicolaus Copernicus had written and hand-copied an initial outline of his heliocentric theory-in which he defied common sense and received wisdom to place the sun, not the earth, at the center of our universe, and set the earth spinning among the other planets. Over the next two decades, Copernicus expanded his theory through hundreds of observations, while compiling in secret a book-length manuscript that tantalized mathematicians and scientists throughout Europe. For fear of ridicule, he refused to publish.


In 1539, a young German mathematician, Georg Joachim Rheticus, drawn by rumors of a revolution to rival the religious upheaval of Martin Luther's Reformation, traveled to Poland to seek out Copernicus. Two years later, the Protestant youth took leave of his aging Catholic mentor and arranged to have Copernicus's manuscript published, in 1543, as De revolutionibus orbium coelestium (On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres)-the book that forever changed humankind's place in the universe.


In her elegant, compelling style, Dava Sobel chronicles, as nobody has, the conflicting personalities and extraordinary discoveries that shaped the Copernican Revolution. At the heart of the book is her play And the Sun Stood Still, imagining Rheticus's struggle to convince Copernicus to let his manuscript see the light of day. As she achieved with her bestsellers Longitude and Galileo's Daughter, Sobel expands the bounds of narration, giving us an unforgettable portrait of scientific achievement, and of the ever-present tensions between science and faith.

Editorial Reviews

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
From the Publisher

“Ms. Sobel is an elegant stylist, a riveting and efficient storyteller, a writer who can bring the dustiest of subjects to full-blooded life -- poignant, in the case of Galileo; cautious but also loving, loyal and feisty in the case of Copernicus.” —Katherine Bouton, New York Times

“Lively, inventive…a masterly specimen of close-range cultural history. Ms. Sobel certainly brings Copernicus to life, perhaps better than any other author. Ms. Sobel presents a thoroughly researched and eminently readable account of a major scientist who celebrated the sun yet lurks in the shadows.” —The Wall Street Journal

“Dava Sobel describes [Copernicus's] life and his legacy in her enjoyable "A More Perfect Heaven"…[A] delightful immersion into tumultuous times…All this history is just the background for the heart of Sobel's book: the meeting of the aged Copernicus with the young German mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus, who had heard of Copernicus's ideas and traveled to Poland for a first-hand account. Rheticus stayed, helped Copernicus finish his treatise and, four years later, shepherded it through its first printing…We'll never know precisely how Rheticus convinced Copernicus to finally set it all in print, but, as Sobel shows, we certainly owe him gratitude, for these manuscripts are treasures of our world, tracing our first steps out into an understandable cosmos.” —Mike Brown, Washington Post

“The new work by science writer Dava Sobel, author of "Longitude" (1995) and "Galileo's Daughter" (2000) is half-narrative, half-drama -- and it's all enthralling, all illuminating. As in her previous bestselling books, Sobel… turns the history of science into a great story filled with fascinating characters, excruciating near-misses and the sudden splendor of the new discovery…A More Perfect Heaven is the story of how a young German mathematician named Rhetiucs finally persuaded Copernicus to publish his outlandish theory. Their relationship is the energizing spark of Sobel's book…Her two-act play "And the Sun Stood Still" is included in A More Perfect Heaven, and it puts flesh on the long-dissolved bones of these historical figures…Sobel, who was writer-in-residence at the U. of C. in 2006, writes with a calm authority and a deep knowledge that never tip into condescension to the lay reader. The haunting final paragraph of this beautiful book, combining science and a sort of poetic awe, is emblematic of her work as a whole.” —Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

“Like Rumpelstiltskin, Dava Sobel seems able to spin gold out of straw. She has made best-sellers out of two unlikely subjects: the history of longitude and the life of Galileo's daughter…Sobel goes beyond conjecture, which a historian may not, and instead takes conjecture in hand as a playwright can. The center of her book is a fictional two-act play -- "And the Sun Stood Still"…It's absorbing and very well-written, and dramatically very effective. And very effective historically, too…The gripe most of us history lovers have with historical fiction is that it imagines too much, reaches too far. Sobel's dramatization gives immediacy to an historical account made up, as much of history is, by peripheral documents -- rent transactions, correspondence about local coin values, written in the formalistic and impersonal style of the day…Sobel will have another of her improbable best-sellers, I predict, in this story of how Copernicus went to press -- a further example of how an author's wit, intelligence, good grace and imagination can find gold in the most unlikely places.” —David Walton, Kansas City Star

“The wonderful detail and eloquent writing that Sobel demonstrated in her best-selling Longitude and Galileo's Daughter carry the reader along here too. Given what she has chosen to include, the book is first rate…A More Perfect Heaven is a charming and accurate book…[T]his carefully constructed biography leaves space for those of us probing the origins of heliocentrism to defend our speculations.” —Owen Gingerich, Nature

“Sobel characteristically gives us the man in full…[she] tells her story fluently.” —Financial Times

“However readers respond to Sobel's unorthodox addition, her account of Copernicus' life nicely balances personal details and such historical forces that knocked Copernicus around as the Reformation and the Teutonic Knights. Sobel's latest assiduously researched, humanistic biography may prove irresistible to history-of-science fans.” —Booklist

“Delivered with her usual stylistic grace (and here, a touch of astrological whimsy), Sobel's gamble largely succeeds in bringing Copernicus and his intellectually and religiously tumultuous time alive.” —Publishers Weekly

“A book on science and personality that should intrigue us all.” —Library Journal

“A liquid entertainment of choice passages on the thoughts and deeds of Copernicus.” —Kirkus Reviews

“A refreshingly fast-paced account of the life of Nicolaus Copernicus. ‘A More Perfect Heaven' does a good job of giving the flavor of life in Reformation-era Europe…an excellent book.” —The Economist

“As a colorful, singular history, Sobel's narrative doesn't disappoint. But her most surprising and satisfying turn is the two act play, ‘And the Sun Stood Still'” —Men's Journal

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780802778932
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
10/04/2011
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
288
Sales rank:
210,806
File size:
5 MB

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.
Dava Sobel (born June 15, 1947) is the author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, The Planets, and most recently A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos. A former staff science reporter for The New York Times, she has also written for numerous magazines, including Discover, Harvard Magazine, Smithsonian, and The New Yorker.

Her most unforgettable assignment at the Times required her to live 25 days as a research subject in the chronophysiology lab at Montefiore Hospital, where the boarded-up windows and specially trained technicians kept her from knowing whether it was day outside or night.

Her work has won recognition from the National Science Board, which gave her its 2001 Individual Public Service Award "for fostering awareness of science and technology among broad segments of the general public." She also received the 2004 Harrison Medal from the Worshipful Company of Clockmakers in England and the 2008 Klumpke-Roberts Award from the Astronomical Society of the Pacific for "increasing the public understanding and appreciation of astronomy."

A 1964 graduate of the Bronx High School of Science, she has taught several seminars in science writing at the university level, and looks forward to a two-year residency at Smith College beginning in fall 2013.

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More Perfect Heaven 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyed the historical detail and the way that the characters were brought to life. Dava writes beautifully.
ken57 More than 1 year ago
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.
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Man_Of_La_Book_Dot_Com More than 1 year ago
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&