Kepler's Witch (Hardcover)

An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

By James A. Connor

HarperOne, 9780060522551, 416pp.

Publication Date: March 30, 2004

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (5/10/2005)

List Price: 24.95*
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Set against the backdrop of the witchcraft trial of his mother, this fascinating biography of Johannes Kepler, "the Protestant Galileo" and 16th century mathematician and astronomer who discovered the three basic laws of planetary motion, reveals the surprisingly spiritual nature of the quest of early modern science.

In the style of Dava Sobel's Galileo's Daughter, Connor's book vividly brings to life the tidal forces of Reformation, Counter–Reformation, and social upheaval in the early days of the modern world. The wall between Science and Religion has not always been so high. While in the 21st century, we have become used to mechanical solar systems and Godless universes, in the early days of the scientific revolution, many scientists explored the natural world for spiritual reasons. This was especially true for Johannes Kepler, who discovered the three basic laws of planetary motion. He was in many ways the Protestant Galileo, persecuted for his support of the Copernican system. Along the way, a neighbour lady accused his mother of witchcraft, and Kepler abandoned his post as the Imperial mathematician for a time to defend her. James Connor, an author whose star is on the rise, tells the story of Kepler's life as a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey into the modern world through war and disease and terrible injustice, a journey reflected in the evolution of Kepler's geometrical model of the cosmos into a musical model, harmony into greater harmony. The leitmotif of the witch trial stitches the biography together and adds a third dimension to Kepler's life by setting his personal life deep within his own times. The acts of this trial, including Kepler's letters and the accounts of the witnesses, have been published in their original German dialects but have never before been translated into English. As Dava Sobel did as part of her work on Galileo's Daughter, Connor has translated the witch trial documents into English for the first time.

David Koch, the Deputy Principal Investigator for NASA's Kepler Mission, provides a foreword revealing Kepler's many contributions to the world of science. Kepler is a man whose name every student of science knows, an icon of the modern age, but few know anything the man himself.

About the Author

James A. Connor is the author of Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother and Silent Fire: Bringing the Spirituality of Silence to Everyday Life. A former Jesuit priest, Connor is professor of English at Kean University in Union, New Jersey; he has also held teaching posts at St. Louis University and Gonzaga University. He is a director of studies at the Lessing Institute in Prague. He holds degrees in geoscience, philosophy, theology, and creative writing, and a Ph.D. in literature and science. He is a prize-winning essayist published widely in such places as American Book Review, Traditional Home, Willow Springs, The Critic, The Iowa Review, and The Iowa Journal of Literary Studies.

Praise For Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother

“A fascinating book, analyzing a pivotal time in western intellectual history.”
— John Shelby Spong, author of A New Christianity for a New World

“A detailed and fascinating account of the life and times of one of the great founding figures of modern science.”
— John Polkinghorne, author of Belief in God in an Age of Science

“James Connor narrates the compelling human drama behind significant scientific discoveries of the seventeenth century.”
— Eve LaPlante, author of American Jezebel: The Uncommon Life of Anne Hutchinson, the Woman Who Defied the Puritans

“Connor has illuminated the life - and thus also the work - of one of history’s greatest star-gazers.”
— David Edmonds and John Eidinow, authors of Wittgenstein's Poker and Bobby Fischer Goes to War

“Connor’s skillful narrative brings to life an extraordinary man who wanted to know the mind of God.”
— Kenneth Silverman, Pulitzer-Prize winner and author of Lightning Man

“Kepler has received less than his due from rationally-minded scholars. This luminous biography will help remedy that injustice.”
— Booklist - Starred Review

“His biographer depicts him brilliantly . . . healthy, purposeful, and illuminating.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“...a remarkably human portrait of Kepler. . . . [an] engaging narrative.”
— Publishers Weekly

“A compelling story of scientific discovery. . . crisply written, meticulously researched and highly recommended.”
— Tucson Citizen

“Fun to read...”
— Los Angeles Times

“No other Keplerian biography fleshes out so fully the background against which the astronomer worked.”
— Christian Century

“Connor delves into Kepler’s life in such a way that the scientist becomes a person of flesh and bone.”
— National Catholic Reporter