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Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother Paperback – Large Print, May 10, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Johannes Kepler (1571–1630) was a towering figure in early modern science, a contemporary of Tycho Brahe and Galileo who discovered the fundamental laws governing the motion of the planets. Connor goes further, offering a remarkably human portrait of Kepler, grounded in the day-to-day life of a mathematician and astronomer simply trying to make a living and navigate the turbulent politics of Counter-Reformation Europe while staying true to his own ideals. This is not the Kepler one might know from textbooks—Connor's Kepler is a man driven by his deep Lutheran faith, yet ultimately excommunicated for his desire to reach out to Catholics and Calvinists; a man who seems less concerned with greatness than truth and a little bit of peace and happiness. As Connor writes in his preface, the book is as much a piece of literary nonfiction about the "kitchen details" of life in the early 17th century as it is a biography of a great astronomer. As the engaging narrative ranges from life amid religious unrest in Prague to the "trumped-up" witchcraft charges against Kepler's mother, one finds oneself lost in a world haunted by shadows and fears, yet which holds the promise of a new era of reason and enlightenment. This portrait poses a striking contrast to that in Heavenly Intrigue, which dubiously purports that Kepler was a virtual psychopath who killed Brahe to obtain his secret data. Maps.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

On his deathbed, one of history's greatest astronomers voiced no satisfaction over his achievements in advancing planetary physics but a great deal of frustration over his lifelong powerlessness to resolve religious conflict. A former Jesuit, Connor here probes the dark religious events that enshrouded the brilliant scientific career of Johannes Kepler. The forces of Reformation and Counter-Reformation repeatedly convulsed the European world in which Kepler pursued his pioneering research, but Connor chiefly scrutinizes the religious turmoil peculiar to Kepler's life. Readers see, for instance, how Kepler fought to maintain friendships with both Catholics and Protestants, how he struggled to harmonize his own sophisticated faith with his wife's simple piety, how he suffered when his intellectual openness cost him his cherished communion as a Lutheran, and, finally, how he jeopardized his reputation to defend an eccentric mother accused of witchcraft. Rich with new translations of Kepler's journals, poetry, and correspondence, this compelling narrative will leave readers wondering how a man so enmeshed in religious travail ever managed to penetrate the mystery of planetary orbits, to blaze a path toward calculus, and to formulate the founding principles of optics. But nothing will astound readers more than the way the religiously vexed Kepler persisted in interpreting his discoveries as evidence of the divine harmony in the universe! Connor indeed argues that precisely because he framed his science in the language of worship, Kepler has received less than his due from rationally minded scholars. This luminous biography will help remedy that injustice. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (May 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060750499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060750497
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #875,714 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

38 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Chad Davies on October 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
In writing Kepler's Witch, Conner creates a biography through which the reader can not only learn about one of astronomy's most central figures but also explore the issues related to being both a person of science and a person of faith. This may be the strongest point of the book. It leads the reader into a consideration of how Kepler's faith affected his life and work as a scientist and vice-versa.

The story is told a bit repetitively which I assume is done to help the reader keep the developments in Kepler's life in proper historical perspective as they are deeply intertwined with the events leading up to and involving the thirty years war. Personally, I didn't find this approach bothersome as it helped me develop and keep the connections straight. Those seeking just a pure telling of the Kepler story, however, might find this approach tiresome.

I thought the book took the right approach in balancing scholarly detail with popular writing to present the story of Kepler, his life and his mother in an engaging and interesting way. While I recommend this book to any student of astronomy whether professional or amateur as well as those interested in the history of the time, I feel that those with an interest in the ongoing discussion of the interplay of science and faith will find it a deeply thoguht provoking book.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jacob G. Wacker on April 14, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Connor does a fabulous job of making Kepler's world fascinating. This provides an excellent account of living during the counter-reformation, which I had little knowledge of beforehand. He also does a great job analysing Kepler's thoughts and placing them in historical context. However, the book is poorly written because he uses tonnes of inappropriate metaphors, uses sentence fragments, as well as organisational issues. Most of these show up in the last half of the book and it appears as if the editor ran out of steam half way through. It is definitely worth reading but a second edition could improve it greatly.
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32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Sage Ross on July 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
...this book is very poorly written. The author seems to be trying to capitalize on the success of Dava Sobel's "Galileo's Daughter," trying to interweave the personal life, scientific work, and the political and religious aspects of Kepler. Instead, each of these aspects are discussed, but they seem to have very little interconnection. Many reviewers complain, rightly, that the writing is repetitive and chaotic; it seems like two books interspliced: one about the political and religious history of Germany and Austria (over the period of Kepler's life), and another about Kepler. But other than covering the same time period, these stories are unrelated.

In addition to being poorly contructed, the book features prose that is often distractingly awkward. Although I got a lot out of this book, there seems to be little, if any, original scholarship. The notes are also fairly sparse, and it is tough to tell the pure speculation from the loosely-documented conjecture from the established history.

I would dearly like to read a book that tackles the connections between Kepler's religious views, his personal life, the politics of the Counter-Reformation, and his work. This book simply talks about each of these, without relating them. This is most unfortunate, as the publication of this will probably make any future books about the same subject much more difficult to publish.

On the plus side, the book has nice illustrations, a beautiful cover, and is well-bound.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey A. Thompson VINE VOICE on July 28, 2005
Format: Hardcover
I learned a lot of information about Kepler, Kepler's family, the thirty-years war, and the counter-reformation. The writer's prose was very readable; however, the book lacked cohesion. The book had very little information concerning with Kepler developing his scientific theories and his search for harmony. The author jumped off on bunny trails for scores of pages without mentioning Kepler. He would write about the thirty years war and the political machinations that led up to it. He would then return to the witch trial of Kepler's mother. He would then breifly spend a little time on Kepler developing his theories and how it relates to his faith. The book seemed repetitious at times. Maybe bacause the witch trial went on for so long, but the book returns again and again to that same topic and how worried and frantic Kepler was.

I had a hard time finishing it. The book was a hard read. At the end, I had a hard time placing all the pieces together. The topic was fascinating and the author did provide some interesting tidbits, but the narrative thread was hard to follow.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 12, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Reading this book gave me a very clear picture of just how inseparable religion and politics were in 17th century Europe. Ditto for astrology and astronomy. And like Gail Reid-Gurian noted in her review, I got a similar sense of just how little things have changed over time. Indulging in superstition and gossip are still favorite pastimes today. One noteworthy change for the better is the reduction in infant mortality. I lost track of the number of children and family Kepler lost to illness, there were so many.
I especially liked the personal letters of Kepler that were placed at the beginning of each chapter. They lent a perspective that can be gained no other way.
On a lighter note, I chuckled out loud over the image of King Friedrich and Queen Elizabeth forgetting the baby back in the castle as they fled an invading army and sent a Baron running back to retrieve the infant. What a story! This is a very worthwhile read on many levels.
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