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Expendable Mudge Muses Aloud

A More Perfect Heaven: How Copernicus Revolutionized the Cosmos - Dava Sobel Rating: 4* of fiveThe Book Report: Heliocentrism. I doubt that stirs much passion in anyone reading this review. It means "sun centeredness." *yawn* The solar system is heliocentric. Hawaiian culture is heliocentric. Big whoop.In the Sixteenth Century, this sh*t was hot news, and really really controversial. Think gay-marriage-level passions inflamed. Heliocentrism meant that the SUN and not God's Perfect Creation The Earth was the center of the Universe. Panic! Riots! Thunderings from dimwitted religiosifiers! Is this sounding familiar yet?And the man who ignited the revolution (which really amounted to observing the real world carefully and reporting on his findings) was a lifelong Polish Catholic churchman. That's right, a predecessor of John Paul II was the one who made the whole Church Edifice of lies and superstitions tremble before the might of reality! Go Copernicus! Right?Except he didn't want to do that. He was a scientist, a man who wasn't content to look at the lunar eclipse and say "crikey that's purty" and go on back inside to pray some more. He measured stuff. He worked out mathematical explanations for stuff. He even told a few friends of like mind about his thoughts. And that's what set off the firestorm that still goes on between religion on one side and science on the other. But he was a Churchman, and a darned good and effective one, and he didn't want to rock the boat lest he fall out of it and starve. So he put his papers away, boinked his housekeeper, and prayed a couple times a day. End of revolution...but there were copies floating around and causing sensations...just a matter of time....It was a Lutheran who did it. Wouldn't you know it would be a Protestant, AND a German. So along comes this Protestant German to Poland to look up the writer of the amazing [On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres], which our Lutheran troublemaker has read and is completely blown away by, and tells Canon Copernicus that he mustmustmust publish this marvelous (in the original sense of the word) piece of logic and analysis.Well, we know who won, but it took ages to convince Canon C. to make with the goodies, and he was long dead before the real sh*tstorm hit. Best of all possible outcomes for ol' Copernicus.My Review: Dava Sobel can count on me. I will read, and quite probably enjoy, anything she writes. She's got a knack for finding the interesting angle on stories of greater or lesser public fascination. Her use of research plus imagination is exemplary in its balance.In this book, a beautiful hardcover from Walker & Co., she does something unusual: She writes the story of the German guy, Rheticus, and Copernicus meeting and working together to get the manuscript ready for publication as a play. It's true she won't be getting any Tony awards or getting a production even Off-Off-Broadway, but she wrote a pretty compelling dramedy about the men and their probable conflicts in doing work that simply can't be overestimated in terms of its impact on Western culture. It was a smart move, too, because this way she can't be criticized for making stuff up in the context of non-fiction...she explicitly makes it up, and presents it as fiction, because there are (unsurprisingly) no source documents to write an non-fictional account from.Do *you* take notes of your houseguests' visits just in case future generations might be interested?In the end, this book is the accustomed Sobel experience. It's solidly researched, extensively bibliographized, compendiously endnoted, and charmingly written. It was a pleasure to read. In Walker & Co's capable production and design hands, it's also lovely to look at and easy to read. Bloomsbury, their corporate parent, pays attention to the effect of design on the reading experience, and as a result, the books they publish are always worthy of a moment's reflection and appreciation as objects. So rare in today's world....Very much recommended for history buffs, science readers, and Sobelians like me.