My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A intriguing book. It sat on my Amazon wish-list from the time I first read about it until I had to admit defeat and buy it myself. It covers topics about which I knew little: Johannes Kepler & the time and atmosphere in which he lived. It isn’t a study of Kepler’s work: for that you have to look elsewhere – to begin with, try the BBC In Our Time episode about him.
It is a story of the world poised between what we think of as medieval superstition and the era of scientific discovery, a time when discovery is still in the service of and constrained by religion and in which inconvenient old ladies can be subject to barbaric treatment, but in which a select few begin to see past that into a rational, humanistic future and lose patience with the old ways. Kepler is caught in the middle, an accomplished astronomer and mathematician who has to set aside his work to save his own mother from torture and the stake.
The visitor to a calm, ordered, quiet old German town today, with its quaint painted Rathaus and cobbles is unlikely to feel that ancient atmosphere of suspicion and sudden lawless terror that was once there, and which is brought out well, if understatedly, in this book:
“Katherina had guarded her attractive daughter Margaretha against young lads who had sometimes ‘pushed in the door of her house [to gain access to] the daughter.'”.
I need only add that the (hardback) book is a pleasure to hold, contains many pertinent illustrations and, er, smells really nice!