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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful
An erudite and entertaining exploration of the Copernican Revolution. I enjoyed it immensely. You should also check out John Banville's Dr Copernicus!
Published 15 months ago by P. Harris

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't enthuse me
As an amateur astronomer I love reading anything relating to the history of astronomy. Copernicus quite literally turned our understanding of our place in the solar system on its head. What could be perhaps the most amazing story, is again not really told in an interesting way. I do appreciate what the author has tried to do here, especially with the play, but her...
Published on 29 Nov 2011 by Amazon Customer


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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Didn't enthuse me, 29 Nov 2011
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As an amateur astronomer I love reading anything relating to the history of astronomy. Copernicus quite literally turned our understanding of our place in the solar system on its head. What could be perhaps the most amazing story, is again not really told in an interesting way. I do appreciate what the author has tried to do here, especially with the play, but her attempt at describing what might have happened to convince Copernicus to share his ideas and risk the consequences and ridicule that could have followed, fell short for me. I wanted more about the reaction to his theory, about how he described to people why his theory was clearly more likely than the Ptolemy model that had been held for more than a thousand years. Instead the book was heavy on the local politics of Poland at the time and about what may or may not have been said word for word minute for minute between Copernicus and this young mathematician who is said to have been an influence on his decision to publish his new solar system model. I didn't really enjoy this book which is a shame because everyone loves Longitude.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Please write some more, Dava!, 26 Jun 2014
By 
DB "davidbirkett" (Co. Kildare, Ireland (but born & raised Liverpool, UK)) - See all my reviews
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It's a pity Dava Sobel hasn't written more popular books on the history of science and astronomy, because I find her such a pleasure to read - meticulous research combined with an easy flowing style. I knew about the scientific importance of Copernicus, but knew next to nothing about his life nor about the political situation in Poland at the time, so this book supplied some great colouring in. It's also interesting that he was initially attacked more by protestants than by catholics.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful, 5 Sep 2013
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P. Harris - See all my reviews
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An erudite and entertaining exploration of the Copernican Revolution. I enjoyed it immensely. You should also check out John Banville's Dr Copernicus!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Special (of course!), 28 April 2013
The exceptional aspects of this treatment are its narrative context & its survey. Dava Sobel reveals how nearly we might never have heard of Copernicus, & how difficult it was to practise science in his political circumstances. We attribute the heliocentric model to him because he made clear it's the right perception of reality, & inspired the further advances by Kepler & Newton. This book helps us appreciate & value progress.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The revolutionary Copernicus, 30 Dec 2011
By 
Dr. C. Jeynes (England) - See all my reviews
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I regard this as a second masterpiece from Dava Sobel that matches her "Longitude" (1995) in importance. I did not know that Copernicus was actively persuaded to publish by Rheticus, a young Lutheran scholar. I appreciated none of the history of ducal Prussia, although I did realise that in 1543 when "De Revolutionibus" was published the Counter Reformation was in full swing. In particular I did not know that that Copernicus' city of Frauenburg had a particularly schismatic bishop who had proscribed all Lutherans in his jurisdiction.

Having set the scene, not so easy for this (to us) little-known corner of Europe with a political complexion which is both very complicated and very unfamiliar to us, Sobel proceeds to tell the main story with scintillating verve in the form of a two-act play, bringing home to us some idea of the depth and intricacy of what was involved.

But then, Sobel brings her overview up to date, summarising the results of the "Annotated Census of Copernicus' De Revolutionibus" by Owen Gingerich (2002, Harvard; see also "The Book Nobody Read", Gingerich 2004). Gingerich found 277 surviving copies of the first (1543, Nuremberg) edition and 324 of the second (1566, Basel). Contrary to Arthur Koestler's assertion in his (otherwise brilliant) book "The Sleepwalkers" (1959), everybody had read Copernicus's book! I really did not know this.

In particular, Kepler had a copy originally owned by Schreiber (a classmate of Rheticus), which he purchased in 1598 and annotated heavily. Kepler found, against a discussion by Copernicus about "computing the apparent sun" (Book III ch.25) a one-word annotation by Schreiber: "ellipse". Kepler's masterpiece, "Astronomia Nova" (1609), demonstrated that the orbit of Mars was elliptical. Moreover, in it he demonstrated that using Ptolemy's "equants" construction, the construction that Copernicus had proved was superfluous, the orbit of Mars could not be calculated with a maximum error less than 8 minutes of arc, half an order of magnitude larger than Tycho's average measurement error. Kepler had not tried using the ellipse earlier since he considered that previous astromomers would not have overlooked such a "simple" geometrical figure! These guys were seriously clever! Of course, it was the ellipse that Newton subsequently proved was the natural orbit in a two-body system under a central inverse-square-law force. So Newton built on Kepler, and Kepler built on Copernicus.

Interestingly, Sobel also discusses (rather obliquely) the mediaeval doctrine of "saving the phaenomenon". In scholastic philosophy, "physics" described the essences of things, where "mathematics" was viewed as a calculational tool for mundane purposes. So astronomers were "mathematicians" since they were able to calculate when eclipses and other such celestial phaenomena would occur, but they could not be "physicists" since nobody believed that the fun and games that the planets got up to according to Ptolemy really existed. This is completely opposite to the way we think, where the mathematicians are in a world of their own but the physicists accurately describe reality. Copernicus was revolutionary also because he believed that the earth really did go round the sun: it was not just a mathematical fiction that "saved the phaenomena". It is this new attitude that finally allowed the scholars (and, eventually, us) to escape from the deterministic shadow of Aristotle.

Thank you so much, Dava Sobel!
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars `The motions of the planets captured Copernicus's interest from the start of his university studies.', 18 Nov 2011
By 
Jennifer Cameron-Smith "Expect the Unexpected" (ACT, Australia) - See all my reviews
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Nicolaus Copernicus (19 February 1473 - 24 May 1543), a Polish mathematician and astronomer, was the first person to formulate a comprehensive heliocentric astronomical model of our solar system. In this book, Ms Sobel provides a biography of Copernicus together with a history of the development of his heliocentric astronomical model. Copernicus was working during a period of change in Europe: the relatively gradual move from the medieval period to the renaissance was accompanied by the more dramatic (and bloody) events of the Protestant Reformation and the Peasant Rebellion, as well as warfare with the Teutonic Knights and the Ottoman Turks.

There are three parts to this book: in Part One Ms Sobel presents how Copernicus came to his view of the cosmos; Part Two is a two act play dramatizing the few months of collaboration between Copernicus and his student Georg Joachim von Lauchen (16 February 1514 - 4 December 1574) (known as Rheticus); and Part Three presents the publication of Copernicus's work just before his death.

`With his book virtually complete by 1535, Copernicus lost courage. He worried that his laboured calculations and tables would not yield the perfect match with planetary positions that he had aimed to achieve.'

Understanding the times in which Copernicus lived goes a long way towards explaining why he hesitated to publish his work. Copernicus occupied a privileged but relatively precarious position as a canon at Frauenberg cathedral: privileged because of the income it afforded him but precarious because of marauding Teutonic knights and the rapidly spreading Lutheran `heresy'. Ms Sobel brings aspects of this hesitation to life, in the form of a play - an imagined dialogue between Copernicus and Rheticus, who met Copernicus just four years before Copernicus died.

`No one knows what the brilliant, fervent young Rheticus said when he accosted the elderly, beleaguered Copernicus in Frauenberg. It is safe to assume he did not laugh at the idea of the earth in motion.'

Ms Sobel's play builds on the history and background established in the earlier chapters of the work and breathes life into Copernicus and Rheticus by allowing both Copernicus and Rheticus to express their views and concerns directly. I admit that I did not expect this technique to be as effective as it was. While reading the play isn't essential to appreciate Copernicus's life and work, it's interesting to speculate on the content of the conversations between the two men.

Those who want more detailed information about Copernicus's scientific work will not find it here. Readers primarily interested in Copernicus's life, and the period in which he lived, should find this book interesting reading. Ms Sobel includes some quotes from Copernicus's writings which share his thoughts directly with us. We know that Copernicus documented his work extensively; I wonder how much of this documentation still exists, and where?

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a muddle, 10 Sep 2011
I am really interested in Copernicus and I loved Longitude so I was very much looking forward to reading this book. Sadly I found it disappointing; the book just didn't hang together and as a result I found myself alternating between being lost in spurious historical asides or bored by the shallow characterisation of the main protagonists. The embedded play just didn't work for me. Big shame.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Uneven treatment, 1 Oct 2011
By 
Serghiou Const (Nicosia, Cyprus) - See all my reviews
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The merits and limitations of the book are described concisely and aptly in the ensuing passage excerpted from 'The Economist's' review (September 24th - 30th 2011) which I readily acknowledge cannot improve:

' 'A More Perfect Heaven' does a good job of giving the flavour of life in Reformation-era Europe, at least among its intellectual elite. But there is strangely little discussion of the intellectual underpinnings of Copernicus's system of the world, and of the meticulous observations that eventually convinced him that Ptolemy was wrong. It was a giant leap suddenly to argue that the earth orbits the sun, rather than the other way around, particularly without telescopes. Imagine to deduce this with the naked eye, a sextant and little else. Then imagine the difficulties of defending it against the obvious criticisms in an era before mathematically rigorous physics.'
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3.0 out of 5 stars Physically disapointing in the invented story, 8 Nov 2011
I liked a lot "Longitude" and "Galileo's Daughter". "A More Perfect Heaven" is maybe as good as them, when one looks at the historical part. However the invented story contains some strange elements that I find no good. I have personally a strong interest in Copernicus as part of the history of science and I see obviously a physically wrong experience in this story, which could have better been avoided, especially when many other authors used to make mistakes as well upon talking about Copernicus.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A gentle, enlightened book, 19 Sep 2011
I have read Longitude a long time ago. Long enough to just remember that I liked it but not much more.
The good memories, however, were enough to justify picking this book and reading it, even if I have not much time to read these days.
The book formula of introducing incredibly detailed hystorical sources and then move into very well written fictionalized "action" is interesting and, overall, makes up for a pleasant and entertaining reading.
I find the spirit of the book well summarised by the following exchange between Copernicus and Rheticus (a much younger mathematician who had just started realising the full extent of Copernicus' theory):
"RHETICUS: The way you talk. It's as though you know God's plan.
COPERNICUS: Why else would you study mathematics? If not to discover that?"
I suppose that the book may strike a negative chord among those who do not like mathematics and yet, that shows even more how faithful the author was in representing the true colors of such a remarkable man, who lived a long time ago.
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A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionised the Cosmos
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