Ever since the birth of human intelligence and civilisations, we have been intrigued by the overwhelming everyday miracles produced by nature surrounding us, but nothing can compare the enigma and the magical attractive force cast over human minds by the skies, the space or as it was called in the medieval times: the heavens. Men of intelligence kept devoting their lives in observing the skies at night, noting and tracking the movement of stars and planets and thus evolved the branches of astronomy and astrology. The science is still an ongoing and most discussed area, where one after another genius keeps providing new pieces of information that sometimes take us forward in the direction of solving the puzzle and sometimes complicate the puzzle even further.
One of the earliest and biggest contributors to astronomy in the western world was Ptolemy, whose theories were revered by the European scientists up to the fifteenth century despite of the presence of loopholes in the theory. The base line for them was that “The Earth was at the center of the universe and everything else revolved around it.” But, this and hence, astronomy changed forever for good when Nicolas Copernicus came up with the idea of a heliocentric universe with an earth that travelled around the Sun at its center and also rotated on its own axis.
Copernicus was the first mathematician to provide logical solution for the occurrence of day and night, establish the order of planets in our solar system and determine that moon was the only satellite our Earth has. Naturally, the life of such a man would be an interesting study. Especially, with the facts that he was a part of the Catholic Church and lived in the time of Lutheran revolution, that his magnificent work was known only to limited people during his life-time and was published only near the end of his life due to his fear for retribution.
In her latest book called “A more perfect heaven: How Copernicus revolutionized the Cosmos”, Dava Sobel puts together the life of this great scientist juxtaposed with his daily duties and administrative tasks for the Church. The only imaginary part in the book is the two-act play constructed by her to visualise the actual interaction between Copernicus and Rheticus, the only student Copernicus ever had and who managed to convince him to publish his book. Apart from the play, the book takes us to the journey of the medieval Europe, torn between wars of kings and faith. It shows us a routine, ordinary and inconsequential life of an administrator who kept working for his own passion in secret and revolutionized the concept of the universe.
We meet two Copernicuses here: One, who performs administrative tasks of the church and manages the peasants, provides medical treatment (he was a qualified doctor, too), lives a lonely life after deaths of his parents and brother but for a woman kept in the capacity of a house-maid, a man who has good insight for economic transactions and money-minting system, in-short a practical man who wades his way through the everyday troubles. And the other: an ardent lover of heavens, a genius mathematician, a diligent and never-tiring watcher of skies and movement of stars and planets who finally presented us with a more perfect heaven.
The book is written in a non-ornamental, matter-of-fact, simple style. A good read for those who like to study the characters, to know the man behind the geniuses…..Enjoy…..