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Copernicus: A Very Short Introduction

Popular Science

Series: Very Short Introduction Series (VSI) Volume: 487

By: Owen Gingerich(Author)

98 pages, 10 b/w photos and b/w illustrations

Oxford University Press

Paperback | Aug 2016 | #232045 | ISBN-13: 9780199330966
Availability: Usually dispatched within 5 days Details
NHBS Price: £7.99 $10/€9 approx

About this book

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543) is a pivotal figure in the birth of modern science, the astronomer who "stopped the sun and set the earth in motion". Born in Poland, educated at Cracow and then in Italy, he served all of his adult life as a church administrator. His vision of a sun-centered universe, shocking to many and unbelievable to most, turned out to be the essential blueprint for a physical understanding of celestial motions, thereby triggering what is commonly called "the Copernican revolution". A first edition of his world-changing treatise, De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium, has most recently been auctioned for more than $2 million.

In Copernicus: A Very Short Introduction, leading historian of science Owen Gingerich sets Copernicus in the context of a rapidly changing world, where the recent invention of printing with moveable type not only made sources more readily available to him, but also fueled Martin's Luther's transformation of the religious landscape. In an era of geographical exploration and discovery, new ideas were replacing time-honored concepts about the extent of inhabited continents. Gingerich reveals Copernicus' heliocentric revolution as an aesthetic achievement not dictated by observational "proofs", but another new way of looking at the ancient cosmos.

Deftly combining astronomy and history, this Very Short Introduction offers a fascinating portray of the man who launched the modern vision of the universe. Out of Gingerich's engaging biography emerges the image of a scientist, intellectual, patriot, and reformer, who lived in an era when political as well as religious beliefs were shifting.

"This short book is superb."
– Ian Welland, Astronomy Now

"A superb contribution to the series."
– John Henry, Annals of Science

"A very strong introduction to Copernicus – an introduction whose unexpected elements make it surprising and enjoyable to read."
– Christopher M. Graney, Metascience Review

"An easy read, with a great deal to teach us all about both science and history. In all, a most enjoyable book."
– Juan A. Añel, Contemporary Physics

"Gingerich is clearly a fan of Copernicus and this superb little book will make you a fan too."
– David W. Hughes, The Observatory

"In eight short chapters that carefully combine biographical and conceptual elements, Gingerich gives readers the benefit of his unparalleled knowledge of Copernicus and his work."
– Michel-Pierre Lerner, Journal for the History of Astronomy


1. Ptolemy's Legacy
2. Polish Politics
3. Italian Sojourn
4. Inventing the Solar System
5. Publishing the Solar System
6. Who Would Believe It?
Further reading

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Owen Gingerich is Senior Astronomer Emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Professor Emeritus of Astronomy and History of Science at Harvard University. One of the leading experts on Copernicus, he is the author of numerous books, including The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler and The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus.

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