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Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus

Author Owen Gingerich, a professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, presented his recent book- The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus here on April 13, 2005 to an audience at the Embassy of the Republic of Poland. After being introduced by host Charge d' Affaires Boguslaw Winid, Prof. Gingerich proceeded to deliver an eye-opening lecture about his most recent Copernicus book, and Copernican theory, which he illustrated with colorful and explanatory slides. As is often stated, Copernicus' most revolutionary and totally unprecedented astronomy work "stopped the earth and moved the sun" in the grand scheme of all things celestial in our universe. This radical theory was set into Latin print in the spring of 1543 and presented to Copernicus as he was laying on his deathbed. The great mortal man died as his earth-stopping immortal work was born- to live forever as an axiomatic law of the universe.

Owen Gingerich at the Embassy of Poland in Washington, D.C.With his book, Prof. Gingerich traces his many years-long crusade to search out all the original copies of Copernicus' magnum opus "De revolutionibus" ('On the Revolutions'). It is noted that the work's formal title is "De revolutionibus orbium coelestium" ('On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres'), but Copernicus much preferred the shorter version of it. Gingerich, to his great delight, found early on in his research work that many professional, learned people, and many, many others from all walks of life so interested, wrote critical and profound comments and notes in the margins of their copies of the book as they read through and studied it. This discovery proved to be a treasure trove of historic and invaluable information to both the scientific and literary worlds. And the finding also disproved the earlier opinion that "De revolutionibus" was so technical and dull that nobody ever bothered to read it. But in fact read it they did--with intensity and passion, and this is the story that Gingerich presents to us in a very understandable historic and fascinating manner.

A young Owen Gingerich had a most unique personal introduction to Poland: It was in the capacity of a 'sea-cowboy.' On June 20, 1946 he sailed on the S.S. Stephen R. Mallory, a Liberty ship refitted as a floating stable, from Newport News, Va. to war-devastated Poland. The cargo of 847 horses was donated by the Church of the Brethren, and was just one of their many similar, generous livestock contributions. The United Nations (UNRRA) sponsored the massive relief program to rebuild the very basic infrastructure of a much destroyed post-World War II Europe. And so the then 16 years-old Gingerich served as a sea-cowboy during the humanitarian voyage, carefully tending to the precious and critically needed living cargo. He relates that the desolation and despair of then-Poland burned many searing images into his innocent mind after his landfall in the still war-ruined port of Gdansk, and he has never forgotten them.

Gingerich could not even begin suspect at the time that 20 years later, as a newly minted Ph.D. in astrophysics, that he would travel many times to Poland professionally and thus become deeply involved in the grand worldwide preparations to celebrate the Quinquecentennial of Astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus, 500 years after his birth in 1473. Additionally, the recounting of his sea-cowboy adventure earned him the utter amazement and lasting gratitude of his Polish colleagues. Over the years, Gingerich's very special relationship with Poland, which began on terra firma and revolved and evolved to the heavens above, ideally enabled him to enjoy the best of both worlds- and become a true and valued friend of Poland in the process.

Recommended reading(s):

The Book Nobody ReadThe Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus by Owen Gingerich

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