Kepler And The Universe by David K. Love (book review).

December 9, 2015 | By | Reply More

As author David K. Love points out, Johannes Kepler was a man who made as many mistakes as he got right. He was also amongst the leading people in the 16th-17th centuries proving that the Earth was one of the planets that orbited the Sun which was seen as an outrageous at the time and even fatal for some. Religion ruled in Germany and Lutherians, like Kepler, were always in trouble with the Catholics. Indeed, the stars were used more for astrology as much as astronomy and people like Kepler had to do both. As an Imperial Mathematician, Kepler was given a lot more tolerance than most. In many respects, Kepler was more of a mathematical theorist than practical and much of his proof ended up relying on Tycho Brahe’s observations although it was harder than pulling teeth to get his co-operation.


Looking at his book ‘Astronomia Nova’, it was amazing how close he was to recognising gravity nearly eighty years before Isaac Newton. It was only his love of shapes that made him realise that planetary orbits were eclipses than circular and even worked out that the Sun also rotated. Even Newton had problems getting his head around that. He also worked out that the atmosphere distorted our view of the stars in a similar way water also distorts the angle of things. All of this work resulted in the laws of planetary motion that we still use today. A particular wry moment was his working on a Science Fiction story of a trip to the Moon although he never completed it. Kepler wasn’t totally perfect and a lot of info, like the number of moons each planet had, was way off, simply by a lack of data.

As would be expected, working out the figures required a lot of calculations and the dawn of logarithms tables by John Napier made things a lot easier when they were printed and even Kepler saw their benefits in speeding things up.

This book is a mixture of science more that maths with a mix of history giving a rounded look at Kepler and the world he lived in. David Love even gives a look at what happened to astronomy after his death up to the present. Kepler might not have realised what gravity was but he did put it into perspective in how the sun and the planets related to each other and must surely have made it easier for Newton to extend his laws of gravity off-planet.

David Love puts a lot of information into this book and if you want to get a decent background into early astronomy and how they had to convince people that the Earth was not the centre of the universe then it was an uphill struggle. The fact that they succeeded is a demonstration of truth over belief. Seeing how this is done makes for a fascinating read.

GF Willmetts

December 2015

(pub: Prometheus Books. 255 page illustrated indexed hardback. Price: $24.00 (US), $25.50 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-63388-106-8. ebook: ISBN: 978-1-63388-107-5)

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Category: Books, Culture, Science

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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