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A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos Hardcover – September 27, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“Ms. Sobel is an elegant stylist, a riveting and efficient storyteller, a writer who can bring the dustiest of subjects to full-blooded life -- poignant, in the case of Galileo; cautious but also loving, loyal and feisty in the case of Copernicus.” ―Katherine Bouton, New York Times

“Lively, inventive…a masterly specimen of close-range cultural history. Ms. Sobel certainly brings Copernicus to life, perhaps better than any other author. Ms. Sobel presents a thoroughly researched and eminently readable account of a major scientist who celebrated the sun yet lurks in the shadows.” ―The Wall Street Journal

“Dava Sobel describes [Copernicus's] life and his legacy in her enjoyable "A More Perfect Heaven"…[A] delightful immersion into tumultuous times…All this history is just the background for the heart of Sobel's book: the meeting of the aged Copernicus with the young German mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus, who had heard of Copernicus's ideas and traveled to Poland for a first-hand account. Rheticus stayed, helped Copernicus finish his treatise and, four years later, shepherded it through its first printing…We'll never know precisely how Rheticus convinced Copernicus to finally set it all in print, but, as Sobel shows, we certainly owe him gratitude, for these manuscripts are treasures of our world, tracing our first steps out into an understandable cosmos.” ―Mike Brown, Washington Post

“The new work by science writer Dava Sobel, author of "Longitude" (1995) and "Galileo's Daughter" (2000) is half-narrative, half-drama -- and it's all enthralling, all illuminating. As in her previous bestselling books, Sobel… turns the history of science into a great story filled with fascinating characters, excruciating near-misses and the sudden splendor of the new discovery…A More Perfect Heaven is the story of how a young German mathematician named Rhetiucs finally persuaded Copernicus to publish his outlandish theory. Their relationship is the energizing spark of Sobel's book…Her two-act play "And the Sun Stood Still" is included in A More Perfect Heaven, and it puts flesh on the long-dissolved bones of these historical figures…Sobel, who was writer-in-residence at the U. of C. in 2006, writes with a calm authority and a deep knowledge that never tip into condescension to the lay reader. The haunting final paragraph of this beautiful book, combining science and a sort of poetic awe, is emblematic of her work as a whole.” ―Julia Keller, Chicago Tribune

“Like Rumpelstiltskin, Dava Sobel seems able to spin gold out of straw. She has made best-sellers out of two unlikely subjects: the history of longitude and the life of Galileo's daughter…Sobel goes beyond conjecture, which a historian may not, and instead takes conjecture in hand as a playwright can. The center of her book is a fictional two-act play -- "And the Sun Stood Still"…It's absorbing and very well-written, and dramatically very effective. And very effective historically, too…The gripe most of us history lovers have with historical fiction is that it imagines too much, reaches too far. Sobel's dramatization gives immediacy to an historical account made up, as much of history is, by peripheral documents -- rent transactions, correspondence about local coin values, written in the formalistic and impersonal style of the day…Sobel will have another of her improbable best-sellers, I predict, in this story of how Copernicus went to press -- a further example of how an author's wit, intelligence, good grace and imagination can find gold in the most unlikely places.” ―David Walton, Kansas City Star

“The wonderful detail and eloquent writing that Sobel demonstrated in her best-selling Longitude and Galileo's Daughter carry the reader along here too. Given what she has chosen to include, the book is first rate…A More Perfect Heaven is a charming and accurate book…[T]his carefully constructed biography leaves space for those of us probing the origins of heliocentrism to defend our speculations.” ―Owen Gingerich, Nature

“Sobel characteristically gives us the man in full…[she] tells her story fluently.” ―Financial Times

“However readers respond to Sobel's unorthodox addition, her account of Copernicus' life nicely balances personal details and such historical forces that knocked Copernicus around as the Reformation and the Teutonic Knights. Sobel's latest assiduously researched, humanistic biography may prove irresistible to history-of-science fans.” ―Booklist

“Delivered with her usual stylistic grace (and here, a touch of astrological whimsy), Sobel's gamble largely succeeds in bringing Copernicus and his intellectually and religiously tumultuous time alive.” ―Publishers Weekly

“A book on science and personality that should intrigue us all.” ―Library Journal

“A liquid entertainment of choice passages on the thoughts and deeds of Copernicus.” ―Kirkus Reviews

“A refreshingly fast-paced account of the life of Nicolaus Copernicus. ‘A More Perfect Heaven' does a good job of giving the flavor of life in Reformation-era Europe…an excellent book.” ―The Economist

“As a colorful, singular history, Sobel's narrative doesn't disappoint. But her most surprising and satisfying turn is the two act play, ‘And the Sun Stood Still'” ―Men's Journal

About the Author

Dava Sobel is the acclaimed author of the internationally bestselling titles Longitude, Galileo's Daughter, The Illustrated Longitude, and The Planets. She lives in East Hampton, New York.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books (September 27, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802717934
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802717931
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (70 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #381,502 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Please note that three stars means that I thought that the book was OK, not that I disliked it, and the following explains why I was not more enthusiastic about it.

I must apologize for the length of this review, but I find that it requires more space for detailed criticisms than simple praise. I have read two of the author's previous books and was looking forward to this one, but found that it did not meet with my high expectations. My major complaint was that the book was very superficial and I was hoping for more. The aim of this review is to tell a prospective reader about this book and why they might, or might not, like it. My overall review is mixed, but this is because the book is likely to be embraced by some readers, but many others will be turned off by its format and style. The format of this book is somewhat unorthodox as the middle third of the book consists of a short two-act play about Copernicus's life and how his book, "On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres", came to be published. At the beginning of Dava Sobel's book she explains that it was her original intention to have the play stand alone, but was then convinced by her editor to ".... plant it in the broad context of history by surrounding the imagined scenes with a fully documented factual narrative of Copernicus's life story ...". Thus, first and foremost this book was meant to be of literary interest - a play, but one surrounded by a factually historical narrative. I will thus review the book in terms of its literary merit and then in terms of its historical and scientific merit.

AS A WORK OF LITERATURE - Dava Sobel is a gifted writer whose prose is always quite interesting. She utilizes this skill to bring historical subjects of a scientific nature to life.
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61 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Jason Golomb VINE VOICE on September 2, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Dava Sobels' "A More Perfect Heaven" is a biography of Polish mathematician and astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, a history of the development of his theory of a sun-centric solar system, and an engaging look into a Europe on the cusp of transitioning from a dark and paranoid medieval society to an enlightened and brighter renaissance future.

While the focus of Sobels' work is her history of Copernicus the man, his science and mathematics, Sobels' biggest victory is her fictionalized drama of how Copernicus' only student, Rheticus, eventually convinced Copernicus to complete his work and share his theory and proofs of a sun-centric universe with the world.

I was reticent when I read that Sobel had included a dramatic play smack in the middle of her history. First, I've found plays difficult to read and couldn't imagine how it could seamlessly integrate into Sobels' work. Second...what? A play? In the middle of a history?

But it worked. It worked very well as a matter of fact. Sobels' play imagines the interactions between Rheticus, a young mathematics professor from Wittenberg, home of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation, and Copernicus in Poland. There's not a lot of action in the drama, so the dialogue-focused interplay successfully blends the historical characterizations into a very believable situation. Sobel peppers the preceding chapters with enough background on medieval Europe of the time as well as the participating characters that the 75 pages or so of the play work extremely well.

Surrounding the drama, Sobel serves heaping spoonfuls of a heavily religious dark ages Poland, and medieval astronomy.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Edelman TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The name of Nicholas Copernicus is widely recognized, even among those with only a passing familiarity with the sciences, as the author of the first influential heliocentric theory of the solar system. (Aristarchus of Samos had proposed a heliocentric theory ca. 300 BC, but it was not accepted among his contemporaries). Those with a bit more interest in the history of science may also know that it was not widely circulated during his lifetime, and that he was a Catholic cleric. But that's where the story generally ends. Even though the name of Copernicus is invoked in just about every popular introduction to astronomy, the main remains largely a cipher.

Dava Sobel is a well known writer who has specialized in what are best described as historical scientific biographies who is as interested in the lives of great scientists and the worlds they lived in as much as she is in their accomplishments. Certainly it's only possible to truly appreciate the work of a Galileo, or a William Harrison when you understand how their ideas may have clashed with the orthodoxies of the day, or what social factors may have influenced their development. As the author of several books and essays on great figures in the history of astronomy, it is no surprise that Sobel has turned her attention to this most seminal of figures.

The education of Copernicus followed a pattern that was not unusual for scholars in his day, studying, in turn, theology, astronomy, medicine, and law, as part of his training to serve the Church. At the age of thirty seven he was appointed a canon, and thereafter spent most of his career in the Church dealing with civil matters, such as the defense of the city and the apportionment of lands and rents.
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