Tuesday, December 27, 2011

BOOK: A More Perfect Heaven by Dava Sobel

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel, 240 pages

Science Book Challenge

It's good to see Copernicus getting the headline over Galileo, as most people (based on my exposure to high school physics students) are not aware that it was Copernicus who first proposed the heliocentric theory of the planets. His book, On the Revolutions, was not published until he was on his deathbed, and Galileo took most of the heat, and thus fame, for promoting the idea.

Dava Sobel has a good writing style, and I've enjoyed all her books- Planets, Longitude, Galileo's Daughter. A More Perfect Heaven is divided into three sections - the history and biography of Nicholas Copernicus, then a play dramatizing the writing of his book, and finally, the aftermath of his book being published. The history and biography contained a lot of names and facts of life and politics in late 1500s Poland and Europe. As historic and accurate as it was, it was needed to set the characters for the play, "And the Sun Stood Still." The play was a great addition, and while dramatizing nonfiction and putting words in real people that cannot be known is often frowned upon, it makes history come alive, and the facts of the characters were established in part one.

After the play, it was the later chapters that I really enjoyed. That is probably because I teach about Kepler, Brahe, and Galileo in physics, so I was already familiar with much of their stories. Sobel includes many pictures and diagrams from the era, and the sense of life in Europe was conveyed well, including the font chosen for titles.

In Copernicus's day, astrology and astronomy were closed linked and Copernicus tried to separate the prediction stuff out of his planets. I also learned that Copernicus and his star measurements helped to realign the calendar, due to his precise measurements, which was also why his controversial book was never actually banned, because the data was too valuable. Great historical and scientific book.

I won this book through Librarything's Early Reviewer Program.