Gingerich, Owen 1930–

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Gingerich, Owen 1930–

(Owen Jay Gingerich)

PERSONAL: Surname rhymes with "singer-rich"; born March 24, 1930, in Washington, IA; son of Melvin (a historian) and Verna (Roth) Gingerich; married Miriam Sensenig, June 26, 1954; children: Jonathan C., Mark P., Peter E. Education: Goshen College, B.A., 1951; Harvard University, M.A., 1953, Ph.D., 1962. Religion: Mennonite. Hobbies and other interests: Photography, rare books (Gingerich assisted American designer Charles Eames with a major Copernicus exhibition and show), travel, shell collecting, total solar eclipses (he has successfully observed thirteen).

ADDRESSES: Home—Cambridge, MA. Office—Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, 60 Garden St., Cambridge, MA 02138. E-mail[email protected].

CAREER: American University, Beirut, Lebanon, director of Observatory, 1955–58, assistant professor of astronomy, 1957–58; Wellesley College, Wellesley, MA, lecturer in astronomy, 1958–59; Harvard Univer-sity, Cambridge, MA, lecturer, 1960–68, associate professor, 1968–69, professor of astronomy and history of science, 1969–2000, chairperson of history of science department, 1992–93, professor emeritus, 2000–. Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, Cambridge, astrophysicist, 1962–87, senior astronomer, 1987–2000, astronomer emeritus, 2000–; George Darwin Lecturer for Royal Astronomical Society, 1971; national lecturer for Sigma Xi, 1971; visiting fellow, St. Edmund's House, Cambridge University, 1977–78; overseas fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge University, 1985–86. Corporation member or overseer, Boston Museum of Science, 1979–; member of advisory board, Center of Theological Inquiry, Princeton, 1988–93; member of advisory committee on history of physics, American Institute of Physics, 1972–82. Member of Yale University Council's committee on the library, 1985–90, and of Library of Congress's Council of Scholars, 1986–88. Member of Harvard astronomy expeditions to Ceylon, 1955, and Beirut, 1959. Consultant to Harvard Project Physics, 1964–69, and Office of Charles and Ray Eames, 1969–77.

MEMBER: International Academy of the History of Science, International Astronomical Union (Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, director, 1965–67, associate director, 1968–79; president of Commission 41, 1970–76; chairperson of U.S. national committee, 1981–83), Academie Internationale d'Histoire des Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science (fellow; councilor, 1971–73; chairperson of Section L, 1974; chairperson of Section D, 1980), American Association of Variable Star Observers (councilor, 1965–70), American Astronomical Society (councilor, 1973–76; chairperson of educational advisory committee, 1975–77; chairperson of Division of Historical Astronomy, 1980, 1983–85), American Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Philosophical Society (vice-president, 1982–85; councilor, 1995–2000), Royal Astronomical Society, Royal Astronomical Society Club (honorary member), Conchologists of America, International Society for Science and Religion, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (honorary member), History of Science Society, Scientific Instruments Society, Astronomical Society of the Pacific, Phi Beta Kappa (chairperson of national science award committee, 1976), Sigma Xi, Examiner Club.

AWARDS, HONORS: John F. Lewis Prize, American Philosophical Society, 1976, for paper "From Copernicus to Kepler: Heliocentrism as Model and as Reality"; Physical and Earth Sciences Prize, Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of Association of American Publishers, 1979, for A Source Book in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1900–1975; Order of Merit, Commander Class, People's Republic of Poland, 1981; the International Astronomical Union has named Asteroid 2658 "Gingerich" in his honor; AAS Education Prize, 2004, Top Ten Sci-Tech Books, Booklist, 2004, both for The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus. Received honorary degrees from DSC Valparaiso University, 2004, and Bluffton University, 2005.



(Translator from the German) Theodore Oppolzer, Canon of Eclipses, Dover (New York, NY), 1962.

(With William Stahlman) Solar and Planetary Longitudes for Years −2500 to +2000, University of Wisconsin Press (Madison, WI), 1963.

(Translator from the French) Jean Dufay, Introduction to Astrophysics: The Stars, Dover (New York, NY), 1964.

(With David Godine) Renaissance Books of Science from the Collection of Albert E. Lownes, Dartmouth College Press (Hanover, NH), 1970.

(With Kenneth Lang) A Source Book in Astronomy and Astrophysics, 1900–1975, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1979.

(With Barbara L. Welther) Planetary, Lunar, and Solar Positions, A.D. 1650–A.D. 1800 (memoirs of the American Philosophical Society), American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1983.

(With Robert S. Westman) The Wittich Connection: Conflict and Priority in Late Sixteenth-Century Cosmology, American Philosophical Society (Philadelphia, PA), 1988.

Album of Science: The Physical Sciences in the Twentieth Century, Scribner (New York, NY), 1989.

The Great Copernicus Chase and Other Adventures in Astronomical History (collection of essays and articles), Sky Publishing (Cambridge, MA), 1992.

The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler (collection of articles), American Institute of Physics (New York, NY), 1993.

(Contributor) No Pangs of Conscience: A History of the McNair Lectures on Science and Theology Presented by the University of North Carolina, R.J. Powell, 2000.

An Annotated Census of Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus" (Nuremberg, 1543, and Basel, 1566), E.J. Brill (Boston, MA), 2002.

The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, Walker (New York, NY), 2004.

(With James MacLachlan) Nicolaus Copernicus: Making the Earth a Planet, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2005.


Theory and Observation of Normal Stellar Atmospheres, MIT Press (Cambridge, MA), 1969.

Frontiers in Astronomy, W.H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1970, revised edition published as New Frontiers in Astronomy, 1975.

The Nature of Scientific Discovery, Smithsonian Institution Press (Washington, DC), 1975.

(With Jerzy Dobrzycki) The Astronomy of Copernicus and Its Background, Ossolineum (Wroclaw, Poland), 1975.

(And author of introduction) Cosmology + 1, W.H. Freeman (San Francisco, CA), 1977.

General History of Astronomy, Volume 4: Astrophysics and Twentieth-Century Astronomy to 1950, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1984.

(And author of introduction) Scientific Genius and Creativity, W.H. Freeman (New York, NY), 1987.

(With Michael Hoskin) Two Astronomical Anniversaries: HCO and SAO, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (Cambridge, MA), 1990.

Contributor to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Collier's Encyclopedia, and Encyclopedia Americana; associate editor for science, medicine, and technology, Dictionary of American History (supplement), Macmillan (New York, NY), 1994. Editor, "Harvard Books on Astronomy" series, 1977–84, "Harvard Dissertations in the History of Science" series, Garland Publishing (New York, NY), 1990–94, and "Young Oxford Scientists" series, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1994–; chairperson of editorial advisory board, General History of Astronomy, 1972–95, and "Classics of Science Library," Gryphon Editions (New York, NY), 1994–2001. Contributor of more than 150 technical or scientific articles, 200 educational or popular articles, and nearly 300 book reviews to journals, including Astrophysical Journal, Journal for the History of Astronomy, Scientific American, Atlantic, Science Year, and Sky and Telescope. Journal for the History of Astronomy, member of editorial board, 1970–74, associate editor, 1975–; member of editorial board, American Scholar, 1975–80; Harvard Magazine, member of editorial advisory committee, 1976–77, director, 1978–85, incorporator, 1986–.

WORK IN PROGRESS: God's Universe, for Harvard University Press.

SIDELIGHTS: A well-known astrophysicist and historian of science, Owen Gingerich is a senior astronomer emeritus at the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Professor emeritus of astronomy and of the history of science at Harvard University. Gingerich is the author of numerous professional works in astronomy, including his 2002 book, An Annotated Census of Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus" (Nuremberg, 1543, and Basel, 1566), the result of thirty years of research tracking down over six hundred extant copies of this rare manuscript by Copernicus which proves that the Earth revolves around the sun. That book, in turn, inspired Gingerich's 2004 title, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, which describes in detail Gingerich's arduous search for copies of De Revolutionibus.

Gingerich takes the title for his 2004 book from a statement by author Arthur Koestler in his 1959 history of astronomy, The Sleepwalkers, in which Koestler stated that Copernicus's revolutionary tome was a famous book that nobody read. At first, Gingerich tended to agree with the earlier writer. However, the discovery of some copies that once belonged to such luminaries as Tycho Brahe, Galileo, and Johannes Kepler, inspired him to search through archives in Europe for further copies of either the first or second editions of Copernicus's work. Gingerich was amazed to find a large assortment of such original volumes, many with extensive marginalia, disproving Koestler's thesis. Copernicus's text was not only famous but well read in its day.

Reviewing The Book Nobody Read in the Times Literary Supplement, Seamus Sweeney was careful to point out that Gingerich's book was not a biography of Copernicus, but rather "the biography of a book, and an example of the admirable enthusiasm of the bibliophile." Gingerich's account of his antiquarian detec-tive work appealed to critics like John Noble Wilford, who wrote in the New York Times Book Review: "As in most good adventure stories, the rewards are in the pursuit itself." A critic for Kirkus Reviews observed of The Book Nobody Read: "The chronicle of [Gingerich's] search makes for an intricate detective story as fascinating as any in science." Similarly, a Publishers Weekly contributor described the book "as thoroughly engaging as a good detective story." For Donna Seaman, writing in Booklist, the work presented an "unprecedented and enlivening tale of scholarly sleuthing," while Jan Morris, writing in the New Statesman, found Gingerich's mission an "exuberant search." Other reviewers looked beyond the detective work. For example, a New Scientist contributor felt The Book Nobody Read "offers an unusual look at the development of astronomy," and Peter Barker, writing in the Scientist, thought Gingerich's book "will interest book-lovers and anyone curious about the history of early modern science." Natural History critic Laurence A. Marschall concluded that The Book Nobody Read "is a book to be read by everybody."

Speaking with Greg Sapp of the Library Journal, Gingerich related a sense of wonder at his own enterprise: "I could scarcely have imagined the magnitude of the chase when I started, but after a while [the book project] gained a momentum of its own. I enjoy traveling, and the quest certainly took me to a lot of interesting places, from magnificent libraries to castles and monasteries, behind the Iron Curtain, and to China and Australia."



Gingerich, Owen, The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus, Walker (New York, NY), 2004.


American Scientist, January-February, 1995, Bruce Stephenson, review of The Eye of Heaven: Ptolemy, Copernicus, Kepler, p. 99.

Astronomy, February, 1994, review of The Eye of Heaven, p. 97; May, 2004, William Schomaker, "Owen Gingerich Interview," p. 22.

Booklist, February 15, 2004, Donna Seaman, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 1012; December 1, 2004, Donna Seaman, "Top Ten Sci-Tech Books," p. 632.

Bookwatch, November, 2004, review of The Book Nobody Read.

Entertainment Weekly, February 27, 2004, Wook Kim, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 102.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 2004, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 69.

Library Journal, March 15, 2004, Greg Sapp, "Chasing after Copernicus's Readers: A Conversation with Owen Gingerich," p. 102, and Sara Rutter, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 103.

Natural History, April, 2004, Laurence A. Marschall, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 66.

New Statesman, August 16, 2004, Jan Morris, "Heavens Above," review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 37.

New York Times Book Review, July 18, 2004, John Noble Wilford, "Chasing Copernicus," review of The Book Nobody Read.

Publishers Weekly, January 19, 2004, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 62.

Science, November 30, 1984, Karl Hufbauer, review of A General History of Astronomy, p. 1067; April 30, 2004, Peter Barker, "A History Recorded in the Margins," review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 686.

Science News, February 10, 1990, Ivars Peterson, "Turning Back Time," p. 91; May 8, 2004, review of The Book Nobody Read, p. 303.

Sky and Telescope, December, 2003, George V. Coyne, "Science and Religion: Can We Talk?," p. 10.

Times Literary Supplement, February 18, 2005, Seamus Sweeney, review of The Book Nobody Read.


Harvard University Web site, (November 18, 2005), "Owen Gingerich: Research Professor of Astronomy and History of Science.", (November 18, 2005), Dan Falk, "Harvard Professor Owen Gingerich Sees Religious Roots of Astronomy."