The 16th century was an age of revolutions. The world of faith, revolving around Rome, shifted on its axis when 95 theses were nailed to a door in Wittenberg. The world of commerce, revolving around hazardous land journeys to the east, sailed west to a New World. Old powers and old beliefs were fading, and new ones rising to take their place. Amid this time of change, an aging priest published his life's work a book that claimed the physical world itself revolved, and that the universe had a center other than the realm of men. In a world convinced it sat at the center of everything, Nicolaus Copernicus' book was as revolutionary as the motions it described. But did anyone notice?Intrigued by a historian's claim that Copernicus's De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium "On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres" was "the book nobody read," Harvard astronomer Owen Gingerich set out to find the answer. From 1970 to 2001, he searched the world for the remaining copies of Copernicus' magnum opus. Along the way he encountered ardent communists, distrustful bureaucrats, forgers and thieves, as well as dedicated librarians, scholars, booksellers and curious laymen. The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus tells the story of Gingerich's quest across three continents and 30 years. Part mystery, part journey of discovery, part history, Gingerich's book is an intriguing look at the founders of our scientific tradition and their impact on the modern world. Throughout the book, he sprinkles delightful nuggets on the history of printing, antiquities crimes, academic rivalry and an ancient internet of scholarly thought, transmitted by paper and men rather than wires and electricity.
Was De Revolutionibus truly "the book nobody read?" Join Gingerich in his fascinating quest and discover the revolution for yourself. Howard Shirley is a writer from Nashville with lifelong interests in astronomy and European history.