November 18, 2007


Literary Finds: These works record extraordinary journeys of discovery (DAVA SOBEL, November 17, 2007, Opinion Journal)

5. "The Book Nobody Read" by Owen Gingerich (Walker, 2004).

When Nicolaus Copernicus's "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" was published in 1543, most people believed that the Earth sat motionless at the center of the universe. Even after Copernicus declared that our planet circled the sun, the world was slow to agree--so slow that it seemed as if he and his seminal book had been largely ignored. But historian Owen Gingerich proves otherwise in a quirky, enlightening account of the 30 years he spent traversing the world in search of "On the Revolutions." He eventually uncovers more than 600 16th-century copies, many of them crammed with comments penned in the margins by Copernicus's contemporaries. It turns out that everybody read "On the Revolutions"; they just couldn't accept what it said. Today the book is still popular, and more expensive than ever, with copies selling at astronomical prices (around $1 million apiece). Copernicus appeals to thieves, too, and Gingerich describes his courtroom appearances to help identify some of the stolen books.

Of course, even scientists now realize that Copernicus was totally wrong

Posted by Orrin Judd at November 18, 2007 8:01 AM
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