Is this book stellar? Cosmic? Heavenly? Is that too cliché of a characterization?
Well, yes and no, I guess. It depends on how literally you take it. At least in my mind, this work probably deserves something like a 3.5 or a 4 rating. I definitely found it a better read than 3.0 or below.
I am certainly no historian, scientist, or astrologer, and those who are, or who pretend to be, seem to have given their ample, comprehensive, and fairly convincing reviews so far relative to this work based upon perspectives and expertise. I defer to them on such matters. I also submit to them relative to their recounting the structure of the book and summaries of its contents. I can do no better than they have.
So now I will just throw in my two cents as a common reader, certainly underqualified as anything more, who picked this book up because I enjoy the interplay of the roles of the church (or theology), the government, and the discovery of knowledge, both in the past and in the present. Most people generally realize that Copernicus played a significant part pertaining to the historical tensions between theology and the church, government, and accepted knowledge as his discoveries rolled forth and spilled the glass of wine. His discoveries changed perceptions and minds. But it did so only after it caused great pain and hardship and grief. Probably much soul-searching. This book, of course catalogs some of those problems that had to be endured or worked around --- celibacy, the deference to interpretations of others regarding history and scripture, legitimate applications gazing at the heavens could have --- that eventually led to changes in apprehension. It does so with historical documentation and narrative, but also with insightful nuance through fiction. No matter how complete a historical record is, we are never able to fully comprehend the past, even our own lived ones. One of Ursula Le Guin's fictional characters described truth as a matter of the imagination. As it pertains to comprehension, truth is a matter of the imagination. You cannot divorce yourself from its effect. I think probably Sobel realizes as much, and I personally delighted in the play that was inserted between the dense, although very interesting, prose sections.
If you are intrigued by the interplay of church, government, and knowledge, as I am, you surely will benefit in reading this book.
Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men
5 hours ago