10 June 2008

You say you want a revolution?

Well you know, we all want to change the world....

But in the meantime why not head over to Christie's auction house (Manhattan) and get yourself some revolution in book form?

Under the hammer this week is a collection of no fewer than 347 historical scientific writings by Darwin, Descartes, Newton, Freud, Kepler and Copernicus. Did you get that everyone? Darwin, blah, blah, Newton, blah... Copernicus.

We do tend to bang on here at about Darwin, and sure, I'd love to get myself a first edition copy of On the Origin of Species (though I'd trade it in a hummingbird's heartbeat for even a portion of a shiny new Beagle), but... Copernicus, people.

Darwin may have knocked man off from atop the living world by publishing evidence of (and a mechanism for) evolution, but Copernicus knocked man (and his ittle Earth) out of the centre of the cosmos by publishing evidence in support of a heliocentric solar system.
This is what revolution looks like:

"Nicolaus Copernicus's book 'De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium' ('On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres'). In it, the Polish astronomer laid out his theory that the Earth and other planets go around the Sun, contravening a millennium of church dogma that the Earth was the center of the universe." (Caption lifted from NYT slide show about the auction.)

I love how ragged, stained, and read, it looks. You can almost imagine some 16th Century intellectual sitting down with a cup of coffee*, opening the book, reading the first couple of pages and then, upon reading the bit that says, "oh and by the way, we're not at the centre of the universe" (pardon my rough translation), jumping up and spilling their coffee all over the cover.

In his article about the auction in the New York Times, Dennis Overbye wrote, "It was a thrill to hold Copernicus in my hands on a recent visit to the back rooms of Christie’s and flip through its hallowed pages as if it were my personal invitation to the Enlightenment."

Also to be auctioned are Newton's Principia and Darwin's Origin (I like using these nicknames - you know a book is big when it can go by one word, sort of like Madonna):

Left: Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, which explained the universal laws of gravitation and motion.

Right: A first edition copy of Charles Darwin's "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection"

I can't help mentioning that the $80,000 it would cost to take home this copy of Origin is the same amount that it will cost to build the laboratory aboard the new Beagle, and the $900,000 to $1.2 million Copernicus's book will likely bring in at auction would build the entire hull.

Come to think of it, who needs some old rag when you could have a new Beagle sailing the world, pushing science forward in her bow wave?

*16th Century Europeans would not have actually had access to coffee, or tea for that matter, those poor sods.

1 comment:

Michael Robinson said...

Hi Karen, I emailed this to you last week but I'm not sure you received it. So I'm trying it as a comment. Sorry if its a bit off topic:

I just found your blog after talking with Michael Barton. I
have an exploration blog in which I just wrote a short post
on Darwin which I thought you might be interested in. But
then, after looking at your blog some more, I thought you
might be equally interested in a post I wrote earlier this
week called "The Reenacted Voyage." Specifically, I was
wondering what you thought of it vis a vis the Beagle
voyage. A lot of folks here in CT are interested in
experiential science education and the SEA (Sea Education
Association) has led the way (along with some charter
schools in NYC. I would love your input so I can update the
post I already wrote to include you and the beagle project.


All best,


Michael Robinson
Assistant Professor of History
Hillyer College, University of Hartford
West Hartford CT 06117