I seldom write book reviews. Despite reading many good books, it’s quite an effort, for me at least, to gather my scraps and notes and thoughts and hone them into a few hundred words. But Tom Mole’s latest book is worth the effort – and worth more than a retweet or a half-hearted thumbs-up emoji.
For the best part of 2,000 years, the earth stood at the center of the universe. It did not move but was surrounded by a series of embedded transparent spheres. Each hollow sphere, for the Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn and an outermost sphere or firmament of fixed stars, rotated around our immobile earth – for two millennia, the cosmos literally revolved around us. And although Copernicus immediately comes to mind when we think of earth’s change of address, from center of the cosmos to ‘solar satellite’, his theory of a heliocentric, or sun-centered cosmos, was pretty much ignored until the work of Galileo and Kepler in the seventeenth century.
Often described as the man who knew everything, Athanasius Kircher (1602–80) was a German Jesuit polymath of international renown during his own lifetime. He was a prolific author with an astoundingly broad range of interests, writing about everything, from geology and geography to sinology and egyptology, biology, medicine, engineering, theology, anthropology, music theory and linguistics.
Born in December 1571 in southwest Germany, Johannes Kepler would go on to become one of the greatest observational astronomers of all time. He would also write books that forever transformed our view of the cosmos. He is best known for his three laws of planetary motion that describe the motion of planets around the sun and were expounded across two books, The New Astronomy (1609) and The Harmony of the World (1616). He also wrote about optics, chronology, sunspots and even published a treatise on how to accurately calculate the volume of wine casks. He combined a magnificent intellect with unbounded curiosity.
Within several decades of its invention in Europe, the printed or typographic book was already outselling handwritten or manuscript books. A very conservative estimate would be that 12 million books were produced from the publication of Gutenberg and Fust’s first printed Bible in about 1455 until the end of 1500. In those first decades, printing was an expensive business, and as a result, most early printers were risk averse, choosing to print Medieval staples (religious, educational and scholastic) and the classics of antiquity, recently revived by scholars of the Italian Renaissance.
Fashion is a global, multi-billion dollar industry. From haute couture to five-dollar tees, it is inescapable — at least for those of us who wear clothes, that is. It is supported and promoted by vast publishing enterprises of glossy magazines and books and million-dollar advertising budgets. And although, arguably, we might say that fashion got its start when humans began wearing clothes 170,000 years ago, fashion as an industry was only really possible after the Industrial Revolution. But centuries before Coco Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, and long before the first fashion shows of the late nineteenth century, we find seeds of an industry in the very first fashion publications.
What people read began to change during the Renaissance. The continued expansion of schools and universities and better literacy was bolstered by the European invention of print in the mid-fifteenth century. The rediscovery of classical antiquity and of the New World, the cosmic shifts, temporal and terrestrial, affected by the Reformation and the Copernican revolution, a renewed interest in mysticism and symbolism — it is in this world-turned-upside-down climate that new and novel literary genres emerged.