B & L Rootenberg Rare Books & Manuscripts has issued their Catalogue Number Fourteen of Fine Books. Science, Medicine, Natural History, and Early Printing. Most books are in the areas of science or medicine, many overlapping with these other categories. We find books going back to the 16th century while others reach the early 20th. It is filled with works from the greats like Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Crick and Watson, but also many others who made important contributions along the way. Many works include illustrations that border on art, such as John Gould's drawings of birds. This is a fine catalogue of fine books. Let's take a look inside.
Item 21 is a second edition of the book that turned the world around, in a quite literal sense: De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, by Copernicus. Copernicus was the man who performed the calculations and realized the sun wasn't spinning around the earth at some phenomenal speed after all. It was the earth that was moving, both spinning on its axis and rotating around the sun. The second edition was published in 1566, following the first of 1543. That this book didn't cause more of a stir is amazing since it contradicted what the Church believed to be biblical truth about the earth being the center of the universe. It may have helped Copernicus that he died the year his book was first published, making it hard to persecute him. An anonymous introduction added to Copernicus' work stating that it was meant to help calculate the motion of heavenly bodies rather than being a description of physical reality probably helped. Priced at $150,000.
Galileo may not have been the first to recognize that the earth revolved around the sun, but he is the one who got in trouble for it. In 1632, he published his Dialogo... It is presented as a dialogue between one who holds traditional beliefs and one who favors the heliocentric (sun centered) model. However, Galileo's prejudices in favor of the Copernican system were too obvious. Certainly, the Church wasn't fooled. He was put on trial for heresy. The Bible said that Joshua called on the sun to stop in the sky, not for the earth to stop its rotation, so obviously Galileo's beliefs were heresy. He was brought before the Inquisition, found suspect of heresy, forced to recant his positions, and placed on house arrest for the remainder of his life. Certainly, it could have been much worse for Galileo. Perhaps some of his inquisitors realized his theory was correct. Item 45. $70,000.
Item 66 is not a pre-Darwinian book about evolution, and yet in a way it is. It is Principles of geology, being an attempt to explain the former changes of the earth's surface, by reference to causes now in operation. The author was Charles Lyell, and the three volumes were published from 1830-1833, as Darwin was off on his voyage of discovery that would later lead to his theory of evolution. At the time, the predominant theory was that the earth could be dated by the Bible, not much more than 5,000 years old. Changes discovered in the fossil record, therefore, must have been sudden and cataclysmic. Such a short time span would have made Darwin's theory of evolution, which requires gradual change, impossible. Lyell postulated that geologic and specie changes followed a uniform, gradual pace. This required a far older earth than anyone imagined. This in turn opened up the possibility of evolution by natural selection that Darwin propounded a few decades later. Lyell himself was torn by evolution, torn between his scientific reason and deep religious beliefs that made it difficult for him to accept that humans developed from lower species. $10,000.
Here is a decidedly unscientific work: The true prophecies and prognostications of Michael Nostradamus... This is the 1672 first English edition of a work originally published in French a century earlier. The astronomer/astrologer/physician usually just known as Nostradamus published a series of prophecies in quatrains. Some were original, others borrowed from predecessors. What they have in common is sufficient vagueness for supporters to say in hindsight that every important event that has occurred since was predicted by him, but without being able to make much more than similarly vague predictions for future events based on his writings. Item 80. $4,500.