Book Review (Posted on 11-27-2012)
This is one of the rare books that get published but never see the light, nor does it breathe the air outside. Being very uncommon, despite its publication date, and lack of any reviews on this, it's about time a small, but wonderful, book like this should flourish.
Author Henry, like he states, is a historian of science. With that, you'll get the most gentle writing your eyes and brain will take in—comparative to John Gribbin's writing. Henry knows his stuff, and looking at it, he's sounds like a huge fan of Nicolaus Copernicus. And rightfully so because, as you will learn, he's the reason for stamping in what we believe today: the Earth revolves around the Sun.
First couples of chapters informs you as to how it may feel like the Earth isn't moving entirely. I don't know if you ever think about it, but it surely feels from where one is standing, the Earth doesn't feel like it rotates around a centered Sun. Henry then explains why Copernicus stated his discovery that the Sun is in the middle, and not the Earth (back then, they believed the Sun revolves around the Earth). This goes back during the days of Aristotle, and his explanation of the natural philosophical view of the earth and the heavens, with the heavens containing a fifth element—aether—along with the building blocks of the universe: earth, air, fire and water. Basically, as Plato stated, it was a time to "save the phenomena," claiming that natural philosophy explains the heavens. Capitalizing on the Earth-centered universe and Ancient astronomy, along with other excellent astronomers like Hipparchus and Apollonius, was Claudius Ptolemy. As Copernicus was brought to this planet, he gave his takes as to why the Earth revolves around the Sun. For the lay person with very little math skills won't have to worry about any math since no equations were presented to bring a point (though some astronomical maps and figures are presented). Nevertheless, the strong urge to "save the phenomena" and the scientific works being considered with its seasons, the lengths of days and the stars in the heavens, along with the natural philosophy and in relation with Catholicism, couldn't come at a better time for Copernicus' discoveries.
Right in the middle is a chapter dedicated to the biography of Copernicus himself and being that he ventured into Law, talks about how he jumped into Astronomy. Henry states it likely started from his Greek studies, in order to read and understand ancient Greek works and philosophy. As he compiled his works and discoveries in book form, something happened. Rheticus, a fan of Copernicus' discoveries, and a professor, passed the printing press of Copernicus' book to a guy named Andrea Osiander to finish up the book work, as Nicolaus was ill. Out of the blue, Osiander added on the book's preface that the book should not be take very seriously and it's "just something to consider." This is understandable since these were the days when scientific findings that don't connect with religious beliefs could get one in deep trouble (as did happened with Galileo Galilei later). Copernicus passed away as soon as he received his copy of his book, possibly having found what was written on the preface.
Chapters 4 and 5 talk about the public reaction, the followers of Aristotle and the Church. Because Copernicus proved that math can explain the heavens, Aristotelian belief gradually diminished. Not that Aristotle didn't know what he was talking about, but the exposure of the flaws, have shown why followers and the otherwise were led in the wrong direction. As other excellent astronomers and mathematicians began extending the truth about the solar system and the relation between the Sun, the Moon, the Earth and God, beliefs and views that denied math not able to explain the physics of the Earth's movement, being elliptical thanks to Johannes Kepler, minimized. All these discoveries and mathematical proofs are exactly the ones we believe today (with the exceptions of brand new things/quirks being discovered every year). In relation to Catholicism, you find that God perfected the solar system with the right amount of distance between the planets and the "Musical Archetype," which according to Kepler, is God's way of pinpointing the motion and the position of the planets (a very neat read!).
"It's ironic that most of the great natural philosophers or scientists of these times were devout religious believers who saw their studies of the physical world as a way of honouring God and His creation, and yet their science was repeatedly and enthusiastically taken up by atheists." (Henry, ed 2001, p.91)
I do think this is apparent today, otherwise they wouldn't teach science, and may I say also disallow scientific discoveries, to the utterly religious nor make it available to them.
The last chapter and Henry's last words, summarizes Copernicus' role in making what we know about the world and the infinite universe it's currently in. Although the great mathematicians, physicists and astronomers eventually came later to solidify and further extend the real truth about our planet and its life with the Sun, there's no denying that Copernicus sowed the seeds of celestial knowledge in which the Earth orbits around the Sun. Since the Earth's magnetic surface causes it's elliptical orbit, and not a perfect circle, it's hard not to credit Copernicus for the original idea.
"And if anything is certain, apart from death and taxes, it's the fact that Copernicus helped to make our world." (Henry, ed 2001, p.145)
My only critique was just to stay on topic. I noticed some parts extended to another topic not too much related with astronomy and the Copernican universe that was about to emerge. All this was done to thoroughly explain a point, and I understand, but I nearly got lost reading it. Other than that, I strongly recommend this book.
Feeling thankful for Copernicus and everything he brought in addition to our sights and beliefs about our planet's role is what I got. It's amazing how much science, in this case Astronomy, evolved over the years and how much changed and how much were tweaked to get a closer understanding at how everything works. You get the feeling of this being that I grew up knowing that Pluto was a planet, and now it isn't. However, standing, or lying, outside makes it does feel like it's the Sun revolving, but because of the masterminds that walked this Earth, and the huge advancement of technology, we all know better.
Not that my opinion of Aristotle has decreased, after his claim of where math and philosophy can rightfully explain, and that he's one of the top masterminds ever, but I got a feel of the studies and beliefs during the era of the Greeks and the massive contribution they brought into this world. Of course, Copernicus changed all that but this book praising Copernicanism makes one not discredit the top scientists/astronomy of the past for leading us to what we believe in today. If Copernicus didn't state his Earth-revolving findings, would we then find out later? Would another scientist take that throne? Or would we all believe that the Sun revolved around the Earth, up until a decade later?
Anyone with a strong interest in the history of astronomy, or science, should pick books like this up. If at all you wondered why we believe in the universe and heavens the way we do today, wonderful books like this ought to explain it for you. With gentle and friendly writing to go with it, without sounding too technical, I think you'll learn a lot from this small book.
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