Dava Sobel issues wonderful Copernicus play, And the Sun Stood Still

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, March 04, 2016

Any lover of science literature knows the wonderful Dava Sobel, and I really count it as a privilege to know her — a wonderful spirit. You probably have read her Longitude, Galileo’s Daughter, The Planets, or A More Perfect Heaven — or at least you should read them.

Dava has produced an entertaining work just out that describes an historic encounter of scientists. The story centers on the great Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, who of course produced his landmark work on the heliocentric model of the universe, but withheld it from publication until near his life’s end to avoid probable persecution.

In the spring of 1539, the young German mathematician Georg Joachim de Porris, known as Rheticus, traveled to see Copernicus, and in their association convinced Copernicus to let him publish the manuscript as De revolutionibus orbium coelstium. Thus, one of the greatest works in the history of science saw the light.

Dava’s splendid new book is a play that imagines and reenacts the historic Copernicus-Rheticus encounter. And the Sun Stood Still: A Play (90 pp., hardcover, Bloomsbury USA, New York, 2016, $22; ISBN 978–0–8027–1694–1) will delight anyone with an appreciation for the history of science and for the approach of ordinary moments toward greatness.

Here is not only the story of the meeting, but in the script, an immersion into 16th-century Europe, its moments, its situations, and its humanity. A magnificent afterword provides context and illumination.

This may be a relatively brief read, but it is one that will change the way you see astronomical history. It may also change the way you see the present.


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