J.L. Heilbron

J.L. Heilbron is a professor of history and the vice chancellor, emeritus, at the University of California, Berkeley; he is also a research fellow at Worcester College, Oxford.

Careful Readers: a Copernican monomaniac

J.L. Heilbron, 22 September 2005

Owen Gingerich’s The Book Nobody Read is an engaging account of a harmless obsession. For thirty years he has been ferreting out every copy of Nicholas Copernicus’s De revolutionibus orbium coelestium to which library catalogues, booksellers’ lists, auction records, informed tips and plain luck led him. The exceptional importance of Copernicus’s work in the history of...

Hven’s Gate: Tycho Brahe

J.L. Heilbron, 2 November 2000

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 –...

Careful Mismanagement

J.L. Heilbron, 11 January 1990

Are your teeth false? The uranium in each of them may brighten your smile with about ten times the radiation you get from the natural background, from cosmic rays attacking from above and radon and its decay products attacking from below. Do you wear corrective lenses? They may add to the flash of your eye a radiation five times the natural background level. Then there is enamel jewellery, cloisonné, smoke detectors and slick paper. Reading a glossy magazine might do more harm to your body, though perhaps less to your mind, than watching television. These odd hazards, culled from a report released by the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 1980, are the comic relief of Ms Caufield’s book. Most of her material is more familiar and more alarming: the dangers of exposure to medical treatment, to nuclear hazards in the industrial work-place and to fall-out.

In the winter of 1609-10, Galileo Galilei made a series of astronomical observations that added to the growing list of anomalies threatening the stability of the earth-centred Ptolemaic cosmos....

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German Scientist

M.F. Perutz, 8 January 1987

The dilemmas referred to in the title of this book were those faced by a leading German scientist who believed in his country right or wrong even when that country became the embodiment of evil....

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