Tycho Brahe
by Don Nardo

Price at time of review: $31.93
112 pp.
Compass Point Books
Minneapolis, MN
ISBN: 9780756533090

Grade Level: 5-7

Reviewed by Teri Cosentino
6th-7th grade science teacher

Some would say the greatest revolutions are not fought on the battlefield, but in the laboratory. The Signature Lives series illustrates the revolutions inspired by Tycho Brahe, Robert Hooke, Gerardus Mercator, and Sir Isaac Newton. In 150 years of  the "Scientific Revolution," beginning in 1550 and ending around 1700, these four men generated ideas and used common sense as well as meticulous data collection to prove and publish new theories. These new theories in turn sparked more ideas and led to laws that still stand today. These biographies illustrate four very different yet equally fascinating ways of thinking scientifically. This book in the series was selected as an NSTA/CBC Outstanding Science Trade Book for 2008.

Each beautifully designed book transports readers to another time. Using period paintings and modern photographs, the brilliantly designed pages provide personal accounts of challenges and triumphs. The layouts are outstanding, with sidebars that further define content, timelines comparing events of the scientists' lives to historical events, "facts at a glance," and additional resources including the Facthound website to enhance learning. Although some material is more appropriate for middle school students, certain sections of the books can be read to or by students in upper elementary grades.

What were the similarities and differences among the scientists’ lives? Of the four scientists, Mercator was poor, Newton’s family had money but he was given a meager allowance while in college, Brahe was very wealthy, and Hooke’s parents were middle class. All left home at a young age. Tragedies abound in each biography. Mercator was sent to prison for heresy, Brahe lost his nose in a sword duel, Hooke was a sickly child, and Newton moved to escape hardships. Yet  young readers will share the joys that each scientist discovered as they investigated.

Hooke took a job with Robert Boyle and had an extensive group of friends yet was equally gifted at clock building, architecture, and drawing. Newton had a mathematical mind that rivaled his curiosity. Mercator treasured faith, family, and the science of mapmaking. And Brahe pursued economic excellence, family, scientific observations, and political savvy.

As readers compare lives that seem so different on the surface, they will undoubtably ask: "How did each of these men find intellectual opportunity?" Although all had different talents, their love of learning and urge for discovery surpassed even their desire to eat. Each was a true genius, an avid scientist, and a lifelong learner.

Can we as teachers pass along some of those traits to our students? Can we show them the way? Based on what I read from the biographies of Mercator, Brahe, Newton, and Hooke, there is a path and it is found by reading and discovering the greatness in the lives of scientists who lived long ago. While each of these books is worth independent reading by students, there is even greater value in a classroom exploration that contrasts and compares them so that students can find their own genius in the discovery.

Review posted on 11/1/2007

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