From Publishers Weekly
You sometimes hear the name Giordano Bruno (1548–1600) invoked as a prequel to the life of Galileo Galilei (1564–1642). These two natural philosophers, countrymen of the Italian peninsula, stood ready to shove the Earth from its ancient resting place and set it in orbit around the Sun. Though a rotating, revolving Earth challenged common sense and flew in the face of received wisdom, still they both embraced the idea—at their peril. The difference is that Bruno died for his beliefs (tied to a stake and set on fire in a public square in Rome), while Galileo recanted before the Inquisition and lived to advanced old age under house arrest. Legend connects their destinies, reducing Bruno's awful immolation to a cautionary tale that warns Galileo against too vigorous a defense of the dangerous new astronomy. But, as Ingrid Rowland makes clear in her probing, thoughtful biography, Bruno's support for the Sun-centered cosmos paled next to the rest of his crimes. He was a true heretic by the Catholic Church's definition, for he doubted the divinity of Jesus, the virginity of Mary and the transubstantiation of the Communion wafer into the body of Christ. Protestants—among whom Bruno lived for a time in Switzerland, France, Germany and England—also branded him a heretic, since he was, after all, a professed priest of the Dominican order. Bruno managed, in the span of his 52 years, to be excommunicated twice—from the Calvinist Church as well as the Catholic. Rowland identifies Bruno in her subtitle as philosopher and heretic. Her full text rounds out the list of his many other deserved epithets, including poet, playwright, private tutor, professor of sacred theology, linguist, master of the art of memory, even copy editor. As a philosopher, Bruno went far beyond the Sun-centered cosmology of Nicolaus Copernicus (1473–1543). Apparently the first man to envision infinity, Bruno posited an endlessly renewed and recreated universe. Its limitless expanses of space knew no particular center, but contained innumerable suns, circled by a plurality of earths—and every one of them inhabited. Rowland's own translations of Bruno's many works, including On the Immense and the Numberless
, add immeasurably to her portrait of him. In 1581 he described himself as having the look of a lost soul... for the most part you'll see him irritated, recalcitrant, and strange, content with nothing, stubborn as an old man of eighty, skittish as a dog that has been whipped a thousand times, a weepy onion eater. He came into the world to light a fire, Rowland acknowledges of her subject. That he did, and in the end it consumed him. 8 pages of b&W illus. (Aug.)
Dava Sobel, the author of Longitude, Galileo's Daughter and The Planets, is at work on a play about Copernicus.
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“A loving and thoughtful account of [Bruno’s] life and thought, satires and sonnets, dialogues and lesson plans, vagabond days and star-spangled nights. . . . Ingrid D. Rowland has her reasons for preferring Bruno to Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, even Galileo and Leonardo, and they’re good ones.”
(John Leonard Harper’s
“Whatever else Bruno was, he was wild-minded and extreme, and Rowland communicates this, together with a sense of the excitement that his ideas gave him. . . . It’s that feeling for the explosiveness of the period, and [Rowland’s] admiration of Bruno for participating in it—indeed, dying for it—that is the central and most cherishable quality of the biography.”
(Joan Acocella New Yorker
“Rowland tells this great story in moving, vivid prose, concentrating as much on Bruno’s thought as on his life. . . . His restless mind, as she makes clear, not only explored but transformed the heavens.”
(Anthony Grafton New York Review of Books
"In her provocative biography, a marvelous feat of scholarship, Ingrid D. Rowland brings before us today the pieces of an extraordinary sixteenth-century life. . . . This is intellectual biography at its best."
(Peter N. Miller New Republic
"[Rowland's] lively and learned biography removes Bruno from myth and polemic . . . and restores him to the time and place that inspired his dual passion for knowledge as well as faith. She also offers a far richer and multidimensional account of Bruno's peculiar and complex intellectual itinerary than earlier scholars. . . . She takes us inside his head to see the interplay of theology, philosophy and poetry that shaped his worldview."
(Paula Findlen Nation
"Informative, engaging, and accessible. . . . Rowland's Giordano Bruno deserves to be recognized for making Bruno's life—from his quiet birth in Nola to his wretched death in Rome—accessible to an Anglophone audience as never before."
(David J. Collins H-Net Review