Chasing Copernicus: 'The Book Nobody Read'

Was One of the Greatest Scientific Works Really Ignored?

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Polish astronomer and unread author Nicolaus Copernicus?

Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543), Polish astronomer and unread author? Bettmann/Corbis hide caption

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Cover of Owen Gingerich's book, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus

Cover of Owen Gingerich's book, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Walker & Company hide caption

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Astronomer Owen Gingerich has written a book that revolves around another book. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres was written in the 1500s by Nicolaus Copernicus. In it, the Polish astronomer put forth the revolutionary idea that the planets revolve around the sun, not the Earth.

Scholars have said say the book for the most part went unnoticed by other astronomers and leading figures of the day when it was published. The 20th-century writer Arthur Koestler referred to it as the "book nobody read." Borrowing that remark for the title of his new book, Gingerich set out to see if the book's reputation as an unread work was true. In The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Harvard professor tracks down all the surviving copies of Copernicus' work, figuring out who owned them, what those readers wrote in the margins as they read, and in short, what they made of Copernicus' revolutionary proposal.

NPR's Robert Siegel, host of All Things Considered, talks with Gingerich about what his detective work uncovered.

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