Sunday, 27 July 2014

Book Review: The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

Book Review: The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

A novel of intrigue, heresy and the quest for the truth.

This is the first in Stuart Clark's trilogy, including The Sky's Dark Labyrinth, The Sensorium of God and The Day Without Yesterday. Each takes a pivotal moment in the evolution of science and dramatises it in fiction.

From the back cover

At the dawn of the seventeenth century Europe is a dark and dangerous place. As war rages across the continent and men's immortal souls are traded for mortal lives, two astronomers risk everything to reveal the truth behind the universe's grand design.

When Johannes Kepler discovers that the stars and planets move not to the whims of angels but according to natural laws, Galileo Galilei proclaims his own startling discoveries. Ultimately both men become caught in a web of intrigue and face persecution as heretics in one of the darkest yet most enlightening periods of European history.

The Sky's Dark Labyrinth by Stuart Clark

An enthralling and entertaining journey through the corridors of power in Rome and the inevitable conflict between the church and the eminent scientists of the day.

Ptolemy's geocentric model, in which the Earth is the centre of the universe, had been accepted for over a millennium, and was one of the core elements of Catholic doctrine. In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus' book On The Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium) was published, offering a whole new model in which the Earth and planets orbit the Sun. This might have provoked a strong reaction from the Catholic church, since any disagreement with Catholic doctrine was considered heretical, and hence punishable. At the time of publication, however, it received no such response. This is thought to be largely due to a preface, credited to Andrew Osiander, which argued that the book relates to observations, and that it is for others to draw philosophical conclusions.

The Sky's Dark Labyrinth is set half a century later when Tycho Brahe proposes a geo-heliocentric model which ties in more closely with contemporary observations than does the Ptolemeic geocentric model, but manages not to conflict openly with current Catholic doctrine.

Johannes Kepler's wishes to use Tycho Brahe's observations to confirm his own theoretical ideas about the natural laws which dictate the motions of the heavenly bodies. His relationship with Tycho is sometimes volatile, and he has difficulty getting his hands on the data he needs.

Galileo Galilei believes that Copernicus' heliocentric model should be more widely held, and that there are inevitable philosophical implications. He does not shy away from the philosophical discussion and this brings him into direct confrontation with the church.

This is a time when heretics are punished severely, and don't always survive to tell the tale. A new science is emerging, and Kepler and Galilei are at the centre of it. The struggle between those who wish to preserve the long established Catholic doctrines and those who wish to bring on a new revolution in science, is littered with intrigue and treachery.

Stuart Clark's effortless writing style and vivid period descriptions bring to life a story that is so often related in dusty, dry academic texts. The book is a joy to read. Stuart Clark's deep knowledge, not only of the historical setting, but of the underlying science and astronomy and the lives of the scientists involved, ensures that this story is not only engaging, but it is historically accurate. This is a book which carries a considerable promise, whether your background is in science or not. I am happy to say that Stuart Clark does not fail to deliver the goods.

About Dr. Stuart Clark, from his website:


Image courtesy: Simon Wallace,
Stuart Clark is a widely read astronomy journalist. His career is devoted to presenting the complex world of astronomy to the general public. Stuart holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former Vice Chair of the Association of British Science Writers. On 9 August 2000, UK daily newspaper The Independent placed him alongside Stephen Hawking and the Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees, as one of the ‘stars’ of British astrophysics teaching.

Currently he divides his time between writing books and, in his capacity of cosmology consultant, writing articles for New Scientist. He is a consultant and writes for the European Space Agency where he was Senior Editor for Space Science for some time. Over the years Stuart has written for amongst others: BBC Sky at Night, BBC Focus, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Times Higher Education Supplement, Daily Express, Astronomy Now, Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. He has written text for an issue of stamps for the Royal Mail. He writes an online blog for the Guardian called Across the Universe, read all around the world.
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Stuart Clark's website is www.stuartclark.com, where you will find more information about his writing, fiction and non-fiction, his journalism and much more.

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