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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Touching history

Dennis Overbye's article Among Scientific Treasures, a Gem in yesterday's NY Times is not just about the auction of Dr. Richard Green's books, but about the joy of holding these books--books that changed the world. Among the items to be sold are a first edition of Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, Newton's Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica and Nicolaus Copernicus's book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium.

Ever since I read about De Revolutionibus in Owen Gingerich's The Book Nobody Read, I've hoped to hold a 16th century copy--that hasn't yet happened, but seeing the photograph of Dr. Green's copy may be as close as I'll come. The photo conveys the fragility of this copy whose survival was by no means assured. This photo and many others from the collection are also part of the article's slide show, which includes the gorgeous color image of Harmonia Macrocosmica--follow the "More photos" link to see it.

I also highly recommend Gingerich's book. And if you haven't held books from the 16th century or earlier, I highly recommend that, too. It's a singular experience to be able to handle something that old and, if you're lucky, to be able to take some time to read it.

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