Set against the backdrop of the witchcraft trial of his mother, this fascinating biography of Johannes Kepler, "the Protestant Galileo" and 16th century mathematician and astronomer who discovered the three basic laws of planetary motion, reveals the surprisingly spiritual nature of the quest of early modern science.
In the style of Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, Connor's book vividly brings to life the tidal forces of Reformation, Counter–Reformation, and social upheaval in the early days of the modern world. The wall between Science and Religion has not always been so high. While in the 21st century, we have become used to mechanical solar systems and Godless universes, in the early days of the scientific revolution, many scientists explored the natural world for spiritual reasons. This was especially true for Johannes Kepler, who discovered the three basic laws of planetary motion. He was in many ways the Protestant Galileo, persecuted for his support of the Copernican system. Along the way, a neighbour lady accused his mother of witchcraft, and Kepler abandoned his post as the Imperial mathematician for a time to defend her. James Connor, an author whose star is on the rise, tells the story of Kepler's life as a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey into the modern world through war and disease and terrible injustice, a journey reflected in the evolution of Kepler's geometrical model of the cosmos into a musical model, harmony into greater harmony. The leitmotif of the witch trial stitches the biography together and adds a third dimension to Kepler's life by setting his personal life deep within his own times. The acts of this trial, including Kepler's letters and the accounts of the witnesses, have been published in their original German dialects but have never before been translated into English. As Dava Sobel did as part of her work on Galileo's Daughter, Connor has translated the witch trial documents into English for the first time.
David Koch, the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA's Kepler Mission, provides a foreword revealing Kepler's many contributions to the world of science. Kepler is a man whose name every student of science knows, an icon of the modern age, but few know anything the man himself.
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Foreword by David Koch of NASA's Kepler Mission
Isaac Newton said that if he had seen farther than others, it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants: Nicolaus Copernicus, Tycho Brahe, Galileo Galilei, and Johannes Kepler. James A. Connor focuses on one of those giants in his fascinating and largely untold story of the "Protestant Galileo," Johannes Kepler. Set against the backdrop of the witchcraft trial of his mother, Kepler's Witch vividly brings to life the tidal forces of the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, submerging us into these turbulent times, revealing not only the surprisingly spiritual nature of early modern science, but Kepler's role as a neglected hero of conscience.
The doorway into Kepler's life and times begins with the sensational witchcraft trial of his elderly mother, Katharina, an eccentric woman who, like Kepler, was too smart for the world she lived in. The story is filled with crooked judges, sadistic bailiffs, and nasty neighbors bent on the destruction of this single, half-mad old woman. Using never-before translated transcripts of the trial, Connor explains that witches in the seventeenth century were the terrorists of their day. Tragically, thousands of people -- mostly women -- had gone to the stake by the time of Katharina Kepler's trial.
Johannes Kepler's life thus became a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey into the modern world through disease and horrible injustice on the eve of Europe's terrible and bloody Thirty Years' War. Kepler was concerned with more than scientific discoveries and achievement -- he fought for peace and reconciliation between the Christian churches, even when it nearly cost him his life. Exiled twice by Catholic princes and excommunicated by his fellow Lutherans, he was unbowed in his scientific and moral vision.
Besides the witchcraft trial records and testimonies, Connor has translated many of Kepler's diary entries and correspondence into English for the first time. With a great respect for the history of these times and the life of this man, Connor's unforgettable story illuminates Kepler, a man of science, as well as Kepler, a man of uncommon faith and courage.About the Author:
James A. Connor is the author of Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother and Silent Fire: Bringing the Spirituality of Silence to Everyday Life. A former Jesuit priest, Connor is professor of English at Kean University in Union, New Jersey; he has also held teaching posts at St. Louis University and Gonzaga University. He is a director of studies at the Lessing Institute in Prague. He holds degrees in geoscience, philosophy, theology, and creative writing, and a Ph.D. in literature and science. He is a prize-winning essayist published widely in such places as American Book Review, Traditional Home, Willow Springs, The Critic, The Iowa Review, and The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies.
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