A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos by Dava Sobel
Partly a biography of Copernicus, this is mainly a summary of the impact and influence of his book On the Revolutions. Sobel also provides a two-act play of historical fiction that seems a bit out of place, at first. But it’s not. The fiction, oddly, adds a certain sense of reality to the setting in which Copernicus lived, studied, pondered, and wrote. His world was much different than ours. There was no true freedom of inquiry. The power of established authority was pervasive and oppressive. And everyone was certain that the purpose of the stars and planets was to provide clues to human affairs on a fixed Earth far below. Today, astronomy seeks to discover what’s out there. Not so in the 16th century. In Copernicus’s time, the purpose of astronomy was to provide better observations and calculations of planetary motion for preparing astrological predictions and for reforming the calendar. That this seems bizarre to us now is due to the revolution Copernicus began back then.