I’ve been meaning to review A More Perfect Heaven for more than a month, and yesterday would have been the ideal opportunity on the 541st anniversary of Copernicus’ birth. Alas, one day later will have to do.
Nicolaus Copernicus needs no introduction. If he does…Jeez man, where the hell have you been?
A More Perfect Heaven is a book in three parts, and relates how Copernicus, a Catholic cleric came to turn on its head the common notion at the time, that the Sun revolved round the Earth. The first and third parts are set against the backdrop of political and religious upheaval in Europe and is thus purely historical. Interestingly, Copernicus grew up and lived during the times of the Teutonic Order and was a contemporary of Martin Luther who led the breakaway from the Catholic Church. Sobel used many primary sources of knowledge, including accredited letters written by Copernicus himself, to paint her historical picture of his life and death.
Perhaps because of the social, religious and political climate at the time, it would seem that Copernicus was reluctant to publish his many decades of observational work on the heavenly bodies, and only did so after collaborating with and being prodded by Georg Joachim Rheticus, a German mathematician.
The middle part is quite intriguing as I’ve not come across this device in a book before. Sobel conjures up a two-act play in which she imagines a collaboration and dialogue mainly between Copernicus and Rheticus, which may have eventually convinced the former to publish his book, On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, which forever changed humankind’s understanding of the universe.
Whether it is part of folklore or fact, the play closes out with a sickly Copernicus receiving a published copy of his book in his deathbed, and promptly died.
The third part of the book provides the historical context in which the book was eventually published, largely due to the efforts of Rheticus, and its reception in Europe by the religious fraternity and the scientific community. In this third part we are also introduced to other famous scientists such Galileo Galilei who were persecuted by the church authorities for supporting and following Copernicus’ discoveries.
I received this book as a Christmas present last year and it was quite an easy and quick read; it is untechnical and you don’t need to know much or anything about science to follow it. If you enjoy history or science or both, this book is perfect.