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Und die Sonne stand still: Wie Kopernikus unser Weltbild revolutionierte (2011)

von Dava Sobel

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5382834,661 (3.56)64
Traces the story of the reclusive sixteenth-century cleric who introduced the revolutionary idea that the Earth orbits the sun, describing the dangerous forces and complicated personalities that marked the publication of Copernicus's findings.
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I was surprised at how many documents and letters Dava Sobel seemed to discover researching this book. Most people know something of Copernicus, but Sobel rounds out those facts by providing background on his scientific research. Like Darwin, who waited many years before publishing his Origin of Species, perhaps partly to avoid the inevitable criticism for going against theological teachings, Sobel points out how Copernicus was similarly reluctant to release his papers for many years. Another interesting element in this book is the insertion of a theatrical play, "And the Sun Stood Still" into the middle of the book. The play, while a simplification of the elements of the Copernicus story, was an interesting change of pace in the book. Sobel creates imagined dialogue of the primary characters from Copernicus, the German mathematician Rheticus, the Bishop, his housekeeper, and a few other minor characters to create an image of how the Copernicus theory about the sun being at the center of our planetary system was discovered and subsequently published. As stated on the book jacket, this technique expands the bounds of narration, giving us an unforgettable portrait of scientific achievement, and of the ever-present tensions between science and faith.
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  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
Dava Sobel’s A More Perfect Heaven has called attention to Copernicus’ historic scientific findings and the events leading to their publication. Unfortunately, her account is marred by inclusion of a "play" that obscures the relevant history while portraying events that never happened. In a monumental blunder, she has her fictional Rheticus engage in child abuse while her fictional Copernicus turns a blind eye to his malfeasance. Her misguided attempt to entertain her readers is an astonishing lapse of judgement that irreparably harms the book.

The play in question is not an afterthought, but the main rationale for the book. As Sobel reveals in the book’s introduction, she had written an 80 page play to dramatize how she imagined a key event in Copernicus’ life. The rest of this book was written as a vehicle for the play. While the blending of fact and fiction is controversial in its own right, Ms. Sobel’s attempt is clumsy, amateurish, and a gross libel on the names of two eminent scientists.

The centerpiece of Ms Sobel’s account is the historic collaboration between Copernicus and the young mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus. The latter had heard of the unpublished work of the aging Copernicus, and in spring of 1539 traveled to Poland to become his student. Rheticus published a “First Account” of Copernicus’ theory in 1540, and over the next two years of studying with him, convinced him to publish his full account. Following Rheticus’ final departure, Copernicus arranged to have his book sent to Nuremberg to be printed under Rheticus’ supervision. The famous De Revolutionibus was published prior to Copernicus' death in 1543. According to legend, a copy was delivered to the dying Copernicus, who awoke from a coma, looked at his book, and expired.

Sobel presents a serviceable recounting of the major events, told with style. She excels at presenting the historical events in the context of the political and religious turmoil of 16th century Europe. As a resident of Lutheran Germany, Rheticus risked his freedom (if not his life) in traveling to Catholic Poland to work with the famed astronomer. Given the role that Rheticus played in assisting Copernicus to publish, the reader is forced to wonder whether Die Revolutionibus would have ever come to light without the young mathematician’s help.

As for the play, which occupies the central 1/3 of the book, it is an amateurish farce that simplifies, conflates, and ignores the very historical events Sobel took pains to recount elsewhere. In her imagined account, Rheticus is hardly a pupil -- rather, he guides a great scientist more than 40 years his senior in how to write his work and advises him on how to ensure it passes muster with the political authorities. In Scene xv, Rheticus is being forced to leave, and literally tries to wrestle the book away from Copernicus in order to take it to be published. At Copernicus’ resistance, he assents to taking a portion away – presumably this is to become the 1540 “First Account.” The scene ends with Copernicus suffering a stroke. The next scene, the final one, has Copernicus on his deathbed, comatose from his stroke, but reviving in time to receive a copy of his published book. The play misrepresents the events, because years must pass between these two scenes. During this time, Rheticus travels back to work with Copernicus for another two years, followed by his final departure. And so, three years are constricted into a few months, the successive publication of aspects of Copernicus' work is ignored, and events are invented wholesale for entertainment purposes.

And then there’s the unavoidable issue of character assassination. First, to spice things up, Sobel gives Copernicus a mistress. Second, over the course of scenes 9 through 15, Sobel has her fictional Rheticus engage in the pederastic seduction of a 14 year old houseboy named Franz. After episodes of embracing and bottom- fondling , the subplot culminates in the two being discovered in bed together, unclothed and kissing, by Copernicus himself. Little Franz scampers away in fear.

Rheticus: You’ve known all along, haven’t you?
Copernicus: I wasn’t sure.
R: But you suspected.
C: I prayed that my suspicions were unfounded.
R: Now you know the truth
C: Yes.
R: And you despise me
C: No Joachim. Neither do I judge you.
R: You needn’t pretend to understand.
C: But I can no longer protect you.
R: From myself?....
C: You’ve got to get out of here. Go now, before anything else happens.

What is there to say? Even for historical fiction this is far beyond the pale. The reader, if his critical facilities are not too numbed by disgust and outrage at the libel of Rheticus, will note that Sobel’s Copernicus (a canon in the Catholic church) adopts a 21st century tolerance of homosexuality, seeks to protect the perpetrator of child abuse, and gives no thought to the young victim. Historical anachronism is the least of her errors. To view her account as an ironic commentary on institutionalized pederasty of the contemporary church is certain to give the author far more credit than she deserves.

This is surely one of the most ill-conceived literary devices of our time. The so-called "play" contained in this work violates minimal standards of acceptability for a respectable work of history. It irreparably damages what could have been a serviceable historical account.

Note: Many years later, following a mental breakdown, Rheticus was accused by a person of having had carnal relations with a 17-18 year old male. A male of that age was considered to be a man. Whether or not Rheticus was involved in the alleged, consensual activity is not known and never will be. The claim should have no bearing on the libelous, fictional episode of child abuse invented by the author. ( )
3 abstimmen danielx | Jan 3, 2020 |
The story of Copernicus and Kepler from the XVI century is oddly relevant in the USA of the XXI century. These great men followed the facts to their ultimate conclusion, even though the facts did not agree with their beliefs or even the accepted common sense of the time. They put scientific honesty and facts above dogma, something that is very rare in this age when people are willfully ignorant and proud of their ignorance and label anything they don't agree with as "fake".

Also interesting is the life of Copernicus himself, who is claimed by both Poles and Germans. In a time when nationality was secondary to regional and even local loyalties, this controversy is only a modern occurrence. The author of the book comes unambiguously on the German side and I think the facts are clear that Copernicus was mostly German. Even though the nationality of his father is disputable, his mother was definitely German, his lover Anna Shilling was German, his best friend Tiedeman Giese was German and his only pupil Johannes Rheticus was German. Most importantly all that he ever wrote was in either Latin or German. It's hard to argue that Copernicus was Polish other than to point out that city of his birth had passed to the Kingdom of Poland seven years before, but was still a German speaking town.

Overall this little book is well worth the time to read it, although I think the play that the author includes as a filler would have been better left off.
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  Westwest | Oct 31, 2019 |
This book is on the fascinating topic of how Copernicus led an astronomical revolution to place the Sun at the center of our Solar System with the planets circling about. There were serious concerns by the Catholic Church owing to the biblical story of Joshua asking God to make the Sun stand still so he could vanquish his enemies. Some of Copernicus's friends were also Lutheran, although Martin Luther himself did not approve of replacing Ptolemy's original earth-centric theory. "Consorting" with Lutherans also put Copernicus at risk, since Lutheranism was considered heresy. I should have found this book fascinating but somehow it was slightly flat. In particular, the first third was very dry with lots of names and places I didn't know and couldn't keep track of. The second part was written as a play, which really humanized Copernicus and rescued the book for me. The third part takes place after his death and described how scientists began to spread his theory and bring it into the mainstream of the science of astronomy. That part was also somewhat interesting. In summary: could have been better but I learned a lot. ( )
  krazy4katz | Dec 19, 2016 |
Partly a biography of Copernicus, this is mainly a summary of the impact and influence of his book On the Revolutions. Sobel also provides a two-act play of historical fiction that seems a bit out of place, at first. But it's not. The fiction, oddly, adds a certain sense of reality to the setting in which Copernicus lived, studied, pondered, and wrote. His world was much different than ours. There was no true freedom of inquiry. The power of established authority was pervasive and oppressive. And everyone was certain that the purpose of the stars and planets was to provide clues to human affairs on a fixed Earth far below. Today, astronomy seeks to discover what's out there. Not so in the 16th century. In Copernicus's time, the purpose of astronomy was to provide better observations and calculations of planetary motion for preparing astrological predictions and for reforming the calendar. That this seems bizarre to us now is due to the revolution Copernicus began back then. ( )
  DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
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AutorennameRolleArt des AutorsWerk?Status
Sobel, DavaHauptautoralle Ausgabenbestätigt
Fernandez, Suzanne TorenErzählerCo-Autoreinige Ausgabenbestätigt
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To my fair nieces,
Amanda Sobel
Chiara Peacock,
with love in the Copernican
tradition of nepotism.
Erste Worte
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Nicholas Copernicus, the man credited with turning our perception of the cosmos inside out, was born in the city of Torun, part of "Old Prussia" in the Kingdom of Poland, at 4:48 on a Friday afternoon, the nineteenth day of February, 1473.
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The eclipsed Moon daubed itself with the Sun's color: it glowed like an ember throughout the hour of totality, reflecting all the dusk and dawn light that spilled into Earth's shadow from the day before and the day ahead.
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Traces the story of the reclusive sixteenth-century cleric who introduced the revolutionary idea that the Earth orbits the sun, describing the dangerous forces and complicated personalities that marked the publication of Copernicus's findings.

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