Heavenly Intrigue

Title: Heavenly Intrigue: Johannes Kepler, Tycho Brahe, and the Murder Behind One of History’s Greatest Scientific Discoveries
Source: library
Fun Fact:  When Tycho’s body was exhumed, it was discovered that he had a mustache that was 4 inches wide!
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Review Summary: A light version of Tycho and Kepler, which seems equally well researched but the authors’ credibility suffers from their obvious agenda trying to sell their story.

When I very first spotted Heavenly Intrigue on my library shelves, I resisted picking it up because of the blatant sensationalism of the subtitle but I just couldn’t pass up the chance to get a second perspective on the same story.  As expected, this book presented a much less detailed overview of Kepler and Brahe’s work than Tycho and Kepler, with a much greater emphasis on interpersonal relationships and drama.  It was much easier to follow and I think this would have been the case even if I’d read it first as the book is clearly intended for a broader audience.  In addition to glossing over some of the details of the history and the science, there were several cases where the explanations of the instruments Kepler and Tycho used were much clearer and given with fewer astronomy terms.

If asked in advance which book I would like better, I would have guessed that this lighter read might have appealed to me more.  Unfortunately, after reading Tycho and Kepler, this book felt a little shallow. I didn’t learn anywhere near as much from this book, which allowed me to breeze by the historical setting, and I felt much less accomplished finishing it. It made me very glad I already knew the full story behind some of the brief references made in this book, for two reasons.  First, I knew what I would missing if I hadn’t read the other book first.  The second, more troublesome reason, is that knowing the full story let me see where this book selectively left details out or interpreted events differently to cast a more favorable light on Brahe and a less favorable light on Kepler.

I can’t say Heavenly Intrigue wasn’t convincing anyway.  It seemed very well researched and included many fascinating quotes from primary sources to back up the claim that Keppler was the most likely person to have murdered Brahe.  The analysis of Brahe’s impressive mustache leading to the conclusion he was poisoned with mercury was also presented very convincingly.  Unfortunately, this argument was only laid out in the last few chapters, while the majority of the book was spent biasing the reader against Kepler and for Brahe.  So, while this was a nice easy read and might make a better introduction to Kepler and Brahe as a result, I would definitely recommend Tycho and Kepler as the more informative and satisfying read.


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