- On Tycho’s Island: Tycho Brahe and His Assistants, 1570-1601 by John Robert Christianson
Cambridge, 451 pp, £30.00, March 2000, ISBN 0 521 65081 X
In Prague people still say: ‘I do not want to die like Tycho Brahe.’ This means: ‘I have to go to the lavatory.’ In this way the memory of the greatest astronomer of early modern Europe is daily refreshed. How the Danish nobleman Brahe or, rather, Tycho – his fame was so great in his time that, like Dante and Galileo, he is known in ours by his first name – came to expire of a burst bladder in Prague is explained, along with much else, by John Robert Christianson. The centre of gravity of Tycho’s Island is Danish social history: in irresistible detail, Christianson interprets Tycho’s behaviour in the context of the customs and expectations of the Danish high aristocracy.