THE FIRST COPERNICAN by Dennis Danielson


Georg Joachim Rheticus and the Rise of the Copernican Revolution
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A biography of the man who acted as midwife for Copernicus’ Revolutions, the book that transformed astronomy.

Danielson (English/Univ. of British Columbia) begins by explaining Rheticus’ role in the publication of the Copernican theory that the Earth revolved around the sun. The son of a German doctor and his Italian wife, Rheticus (1514–74) was born in the Alpine town of Feldkirch. In 1528, after his father (also Georg) was executed for stealing from patients, his mother sent Rheticus to the University of Wittenberg. Under the guidance of Luther’s humanist disciple, Philip Melancthon, Rheticus excelled at math and astronomy. In 1536, he was appointed professor of mathematics. But two years later, he began a prolonged leave of absence—which, by 1539, brought him to Frauenberg, now part of Poland. There, he sought out Copernicus and became his first and only student. After two years of working with the older astronomer, Rheticus circulated a summary of Copernicus’ theories, then took the manuscript of Revolutions to Nuremberg for publication, and finally became the new cosmology’s fervent advocate. His subsequent career did not go smoothly. He racked up unexcused absences from his teaching post and, later, after being accused of sodomy, was forced to flee Wittenberg. In later years, he practiced medicine, pursuing the new theories of Paracelsus while neglecting his mathematical studies, for which his reputation remained high. Ironically, it was in his last years that a young student, Valentin Otto, took the role Rheticus had taken with Copernicus, persuading him to return to his magnum opus—the first book of trigonometric functions.

<\b>An illuminating picture of the intellectual and cultural life of Germany as the new science made its impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2006
ISBN: 0-8027-1530-3
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Walker
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2006