Walker & Company, $25.00, 273 pages
Popular history-of-science writer Dava Sobel tells the story of how, in the middle of the 16th century, a young mathematician named Rheticus traveled to Poland and convinced an aging Nicolaus Copernicus to publish his controversial theory that the earth, like all other planets, orbited the sun. Since there is no historical record of what happened during the visit beyond later recollections, the “how” is given to the reader as a fictionalized play, And the Sun Stood Still. This drama is flanked on both sides by six chapters that provide background information on the lives of Copernicus and Rheticus and place this event in the history of astronomy and its religious and political context.
While there is nothing new to learn about Copernicus, Sobel’s narrative in the first section of the book is engaging. The play is interesting, but comes across as a history-of-science soap opera full of flat characters. The third part seems too quick an overview of Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo. Overall, A More Perfect Heaven is a suitable introduction for one not familiar with Copernicus, but for those already versed in the history of astronomy, Sobel’s book would not suffice as required reading.