Or “How Copernicus revolutionised the Cosmos”, by Dava Sobel (who also wrote “Longitude”).

This book centres on a meeting between Nicolaus Copernicus and Georg Joachim Rheticus after which Copernicus agreed to publish his theory and astronomical observations. In it he puts the sun at the centre of the observable universe instead of the earth. A revolutionary idea not least because it meant a fundamental shift in understanding how the universe works. With his insight it could be realised that the earth moves, revolves, contrary to common sense (we see the sun rise and set) and contrary to the common understanding of parts of the Old Testament ( see Joshua chapter 10 and Psalms 93 and 96).

The book is in three parts. The middle section is a play based on the author’s historical research and speculates on Copernicus’ meeting with Rheticus. The other two parts give some “before and after” historical details. I had forgotten, for example, that Copernicus was a contemporary of the Reformation: a time rife with controversy between Lutherans and Roman Catholics. I learned some of the complicated history and geography of Poland and Germans states; and I discovered that Copernicus was a Canon in the service of the Roman Catholic Church.

Having said that, I am sorry to say that this book shared a characteristic of “Longitude” (also by Dava Sobel). By being reasonably thorough it was not exactly a gripping read and I nearly gave up reading it more than once. It accompanied me while I ate my breakfast porridge and while both have been reasonable food for body and mind it was by no means obvious which was the stodgier. The play was OK – probably better seen than read – but if shown on TV then a couple of scenes are best placed after the watershed.

For general interest I would probably rate this somewhere between 3 or 4 stars; for style only 2. As I don’t expect to read it again (I’ve since returned it to the local library) I give it 2 stars overall or 5 out of 10.

Nonetheless, this churchman, Nicolaus Copernicus, did not set out to challenge the Faith he had inherited although he did challenge some of the assumptions people made about it. He is significant for the advances in understanding our universe that his book and heliocentric universe helped to make; credit must be given to him for that.

For this post I’ll let him have the last word.

“So vast, without any question, is the divine handiwork of the most excellent Almighty”, Nicolaus Copernicus
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