A better discussion of how, when, why, and with whom Coper. wrote his book - and who published it, how, when, and who read it - is “The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus” by Owen Gingerich.
I agree completely with one reviewer ...
Fascinated by the marginal notes as well as the antiquarian texts themselves, Gingerich became a full-time historian of science. His thirty-year quest to locate, identify, and study all the early editions of Copernicus’s magnum opus, with a particular emphasis on annotated copies, became “The Great Copernicus Chase.” The chase turned up a rich collection of marginalia, which has led to a deepening understanding of Copernicus’s influence and of the intellectual climate of the era. And it culminated, two years ago, in Gingerich’s weighty An Annotated Census of Copernicus’ De Revolutionibus.
Few people are likely to read Gingerich’s census, but anyone who appreciates the printed word will gallop through his new account of how it came to be. The Book Nobody Read moves around the world like an espionage thriller—from federal courtrooms in Washington (where Gingerich was an expert witness in the prosecution of a book thief), to Beijing, Australia, Soviet-era Leningrad, and the Vatican. Using investigative techniques worthy of Sherlock Holmes, Gingerich has identified the personal copies owned by such figures as Johannes Kepler and Adam Smith. Many, pace Koestler, bought the book to read it; others became buyers just because it was rare and important.
Gingerich describes their lives so vividly that it seems he’s met them in the flesh. Yet whenever the reader begins to tire of historical minutiae, Gingerich throws in charming tidbits of bibliophilic lore. Attentive readers will learn how many books a sixteenth-century printing press could produce in a day, which insects bore round holes through the pages of old books, and how a German library once sold off a copy of Newton’s Principia because it was too heavily annotated, only to discover that the notations were made by Newton’s contemporary and archrival Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.
Now that its first editions bring as much as $800,000 at rare-book auctions, De revoutionibus has truly become a book that few can read, at least in its original editions. Spend a few hours, then, with The Book Nobody Read, which, title notwithstanding, is a book to be read by everybody.
Laurence A. Marschall,
Leibniz HA! My Latin and Calculus have expired. It’s been too long since they were used.