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The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus [Kindle Edition]

Owen Gingerich
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)

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Book Description

After three decades of investigation, and after traveling hundreds of thousands of miles across the globe-from Melbourne to Moscow, Boston to Beijing-Gingerich has written an utterly original book built on his experience and the remarkable insights gleaned from examining some 600 copies of De revolutionibus. He found the books owned and annotated by Galileo, Kepler and many other lesser-known astronomers whom he brings back to life, which illuminate the long, reluctant process of accepting the Sun-centered cosmos and highlight the historic tensions between science and the Catholic Church. He traced the ownership of individual copies through the hands of saints, heretics, scalawags, and bibliomaniacs. He was called as the expert witness in the theft of one copy, witnessed the dramatic auction of another, and proves conclusively that De revolutionibus was as inspirational as it was revolutionary.

Part biography of a book, part scientific exploration, part bibliographic detective story, The Book Nobody Read recolors the history of cosmology and offers new appreciation of the enduring power of an extraordinary book and its ideas.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 1543, Nicolaus Copernicus, astronomer and "Catholic canon at the Frauenburg [Poland] cathedral," published De revolutionibus (On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres), one of the world's greatest and most revolutionary scientific works, explaining that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than the reverse. Yet many have wondered if this dense and very technical book was actually read by the author's contemporaries. Arthur Koestler, in his bestselling history of astronomy, The Sleepwalkers, called it "the book that nobody read." Gingerich, a Harvard astrophysicist and historian of science, proves Koestler wrong. Gingerich went on a quest to track down every extant copy of the original work, and he does a fabulous job of documenting virtually everything there is to know about its first and second (1566) editions, conclusively demonstrating the impact it had on early astronomical thought. As thoroughly engaging as a good detective story, the book recreates the excitement Gingerich himself felt as he traveled the world examining and making sense of centuries-old manuscripts. There is a rich discussion of techniques for assessing treasures of this sort. Handwriting analysis of marginalia, for example, enabled Gingerich to determine who owned many of the copies and to document how critical new ideas spread across Europe and beyond, while an examination of watermarks and glue helps demonstrate whether books have been altered. Providing great insight into 16th-century science, the book should be equally enjoyed by readers interested in the history of science and in bibliophilia. 8 color, 35 b&w illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Scientific American

In a 1959 best-selling history of astronomy, Arthur Koestler called Copernicus's De revolutionibus (which set forth the controversial view that the sun rather than the earth is at the center of the universe) "the book that nobody read." Gingerich, then an astrophysicist at Harvard University, happened on a first edition from 1543 richly annotated by a well-known 16th-century astronomer. At least one person had read the book! His fascination with this find turned Gingerich into a full-time historian of science and, to prove Koestler wrong, sent him on a 30-year odyssey to examine every first edition he could track down. This is the story of that quest, in which Gingerich covered hundreds of thousands of miles, uncovered 276 first editions and showed that Koestler was, indeed, wrong. The marginal notes, especially in copies that had belonged to other astronomers, reveal how much Copernicus's thesis was being debated by his contemporaries. Part detective thriller, part vivid historical biography, it's all fun.

Editors of Scientific American

Product Details

  • File Size: 9546 KB
  • Print Length: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; 1 edition (May 26, 2009)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #758,371 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
69 of 70 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An introduction to bibliophilia March 15, 2004
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
The story of Copernicus and his description of the heliocentric universe forms the background of this fascinating book. The scientific revolution began with Copernicus. Owen Gingerich is an astrophysicist and historian of science who began his whimsical quest in 1970 as part of the preparation for the 500th anniversary of Copernicus birth in 1973. International scholarly celebrations were planned and Gingerich was on the committee to prepare them. The question arose whether many owners of the book had actually read all the way through this massive and rather tedious tome. Gingerich happened to be visiting Scotland at the time and decided to look at a copy of "De revolutionibus," known to be in the Royal Observatory in Edinburgh. To his surprise, the copy was heavily annotated all the way through. It had been very carefully read by someone. The reader had even corrected a number of errors in the text. Gingerich searched for evidence of the reader's name. Finally, he discovered the initials ER stamped on the cover. With a shock, he realized that these might be the initials of Erasmus Reinhold, the leading mathematical astronomer of the generation after Copernicus. Gingerich eventually found samples of Reinhold's writing and confirmed his hypothesis. For the next 30 years, he searched for other copies of the great work and recorded the annotations placed in the margins by owners during the Renaissance. He became an expert on Copernicus and the sociology of science in the 15th and following centuries. He also became an expert on paper-making, printing and binding. This resulted in several detective stories as book thieves and forgers were uncovered and prosecuted. Read more ›
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40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating mix of history, science, and bibliomania February 15, 2004
By A Customer
It's remarkable that a complicated science book published more than 460 years ago could come alive in the pages of a new book, but that's the case in The Book Nobody Read-the story of astronomer Owen Gingerich's 30-year quest to see in person every existing copy of Nicolaus Copernicus's revolutionary 1543 book De revolutionibus, which for the first time suggested that the Sun, not the Earth, was at the center of the universe.
Gingerich found copies originally owned by Galileo, Kepler, and a host of important figures in the 16th century, many of them annotated-and in those annotations he found fascinating information about the debate between scientists and the Catholic Church over the true state of the universe, and about how knowledge spread in the 16th century. Along the way he shows us how he found the books (all over the world, from Beijing and Melbourne to Europe, Scandinavia, and America); takes us to the trial of a man accused of stealing a copy (Gingerich was the expert witness for the prosecution) and to a dramatic auction of another copy (he often consults to auction houses); offers intriguing details on how Copernicus's massive book was printed and speculates on how many copies would have been printed; and perhaps most interestingly, weaves into his story those of 16th- and 17th-century scientific intellectuals whose insights are cornerstones of our knowledge today.
Book jackets often overstate a book's significance, but the last paragraph of this jacket description seems very accurate: "Part biography of a book, part scientific exploration, part bibliographic detective story, The Book Nobody Read recolors the history of cosmology and offers new appreciation of the enduring power of an extraordinary book and its ideas." This is one of the smartest books I've read in a long time.
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25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Class Detective Story December 17, 2006
First Class Detective Story

The author chronicles his 30 year search for fate of the original copies of the Copernicus's revolutionary text. This makes for a first rate detective story. The book is as hard to put down as any good mystery.

Gingerich shows that the history of astronomy is interwoven with the entire history of mankind.

See Also:

The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus


God's Universe

Highly recommended.
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22 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Copernicus for Bibliophiles June 23, 2004
In the year of my birth, Arthur Koestler threw down a gauntlet when he labeled Nicolaus Copernicus' De revolutionibus [arguably the greatest science book of the last few thousand years] "the book nobody read." Owen Gingerich, astronomer and bibliophile, picked up that gauntlet and did battle with Koestler in the way a scientist must do battle - find empirical evidence that the book had been read. The Book Nobody Read is Gingerich's popular account of his decades long effort to track down every extant copy of the first and second edition of De revolutionibus to look for evidence of use [mainly using the marginalia left by the readers/owners]. The book flap blurb nails the book when it calls The Book Nobody Read "part biography of a book, part scientific exploration, [and] part bibliographic detective story." The blurb writer could have tossed in adventure story, too. I enjoyed the book immensely, especially the excellent way in which The Book Nobody Read illustrates the use of the scientific [empirical] method for what many folks would perceive as a non-traditional use. As a bibliophile and science teacher, I'm probably a member of the perfect audience for this book. I include the previous statement as a caution, because at least one of the reviewers seems to have misjudged what the book was about. If you are interested in traditional biography and want a book on Nicolaus Copernicus, The Book Nobody Read may disappoint. If you like books on books and have an interest in history [especially the history of science], I think you'd rate this book a classic.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A renaissance history of the heliocentric theory of astronomy.
Good and easy read. Enjoyable survey of renaissance astronomy through the margin notes of Copernicus' book, combined with a modern detective story,piecing together the history of... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Michael Conn
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent adjunct to the story of the Copernican Revolution
This is an excellent supplement to the classic story of Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, and Newton of 1959, "The Sleepwalkers", by Arthur Koestler. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Thomas C. Fletcher
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
great my daughter loved it
Published 3 months ago by paul turner
5.0 out of 5 stars The pleasure of going astray
Most of us have done this: we start with a well defined goal, and somehow we get distracted and we end up doing something different. Read more
Published on August 25, 2012 by Claude Lambert
4.0 out of 5 stars Cool Approach to History
This book is perfect for history lovers who commute -- it includes great writing, terrific detail, and a "mystery" worth exploring from beginning to end. Read more
Published on May 30, 2011 by J. Smallridge
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book Everyone Read
If I wish to determine who has read my publications or US patents, I can go to on-line sources of information. Read more
Published on February 12, 2010 by Paul Moskowitz
4.0 out of 5 stars Myths exposed in this history of science detective story.
Gingerich, astronomer and science historian, is perhaps the world's leading Copernicus scholar. This is the account of his extensive 35-year efforts to locate, examine, sometimes... Read more
Published on August 31, 2009 by Wesley L. Janssen
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book You Should Read
I love this book. It is a historical who-dun-it centered on the marginal notes made in the copies of De Revolutionibus On the Revolutions: Nicholas Copernicus Complete Works... Read more
Published on July 31, 2009 by David C. Bossard
5.0 out of 5 stars The Book That Nobody Could Stop
Of course, Copernicus' book On Revolutions is really the book no one admitted to reading, if your country was Roman Catholic. Read more
Published on July 7, 2009 by Barton J. Chandler
1.0 out of 5 stars Not much more than a collection of anecdotes
This book consists of a collection of anecdotes rather than a comprehensive view and of the very interesting question: How revolutionary ideas propagate in the scientific... Read more
Published on January 22, 2009 by O.O. Lake
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