Skip to main content

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Tycho Brahe and the Measure of the Heavens

The Danish aristocrat and astronomer Tycho Brahe personified the inventive vitality of Renaissance life in the sixteenth century. Brahe lost his nose in a student duel, wrote Latin poetry, and built one of the most astonishing villas of the late Renaissance, while virtually inventing team research and establishing the fundamental rules of empirical science. His observatory at Uraniborg functioned as a satellite to Hamlet’s castle of Kronborg until Tycho abandoned it to end his days at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II in Prague. This illustrated biography presents a new and dynamic view of Tycho’s life, reassessing his gradual separation of astrology from astronomy and his key relationships with Johannes Kepler, his sister Sophie, and his kinsmen at the court of King Frederick II.

272 pages | 59 color plates, 39 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2

Renaissance Lives

Art: Art--General Studies


Reaktion Books image

View all books from Reaktion Books


"A new biography aims to restore early modern Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe to what the author, historian Christianson, asserts is his rightful place as a ‘world-class figure of the late Renaissance.’ Richly illustrated and based on a detailed analysis of Tycho’s surviving texts, Tycho Brahe and the Measure of the Heavens also draws on significant new scholarship written in the Nordic languages. Christianson deftly depicts Tycho’s tumultuous relationship with his one-time assistant Johannes Kepler, while paying careful attention to the context of Tycho’s position in the Danish and Bohemian courts and the sociopolitical ramifications of the Reformation. Ultimately, Christianson argues that Tycho’s empirical methods had a “profound and enduring” effect on the history of science. The book is required reading for scholars of early modern astronomy."

Physics Today

"Christianson has provided us with a concise, erudite, informative, well-illustrated, and well-referenced book that is an absolute joy to read. He revealed the heart of his subject and emphasized the humanity of Brahe. . . . I enjoyed this book hugely. It is not only a first-class introduction to the life of Brahe, it is also a first-class introduction to astronomy in the Renaissance."

Observatory Magazine

"Christianson’s Tycho Brahe and the Measure of the Heavens is an elegantly written, succinct, and generously illustrated biography. . . . An erudite biography of a great social organizer, as well as a 'court aristocrat.'"


"In this book Christianson takes the reader through the life of Tycho Brahe. . . . This volume includes an index, is referenced , and there is a reading list allowing the reader to fully follow up topic. . . . The images are particularly well matched to the text. Would I recommend this book? Yes I would."

Bill Barton | Journal of the British Astronomical Association

“This fascinating and rich biography successfully explains the aims of Tycho’s startling and ambitious enterprise, to rebuild the sciences of heaven and earth in a new vision of organized inquiry and the accumulation of nature’s treasures. With gripping detail and brilliant illustrations, this book will be essential reading for anyone interested in the cosmos and culture of early modernity.”

Simon Schaffer, Professor of History of Science, University of Cambridge

"The preeminent authority in the English-speaking world, Christianson retells the story of Tycho Brahe with scholarly precision but with a lucid style and many well chosen illustrations. Tycho and his circle emerge vividly, his new instruments and his new ways of using them beginning as a Humanist ‘return to the sources,' only to became something else—a way of doing science that put carefully checked observations ahead of theory. All this, as well as the fake nose and the elk that fell down the stairs. This is now the best single volume introduction to Tycho and his times, in English."

Peter Barker, Professor of the History of Science, University of Oklahoma

"A reminder, both timely and readable, by the leading expert on Tycho Brahe, of the vital role of the courts of Denmark, and of the Emperor Rudolf II in Prague, in the modernization of European science around 1600."

Philip Mansel, author of "King of the World: The Life of Louis XIV"

Table of Contents

Preface: Denmark and the Renaissance

1 Birthright Challenged, 1546–70
2 Cloister into Observatory: The New Star, 1570–73
3 Finding a New Life, 1573–6
4 Treasures of the Sea King: Kronborg and Uraniborg, 1576–82
5 Star Castle: Going Down to See Up, 1582–8
6 On the Move, 1588–99
7 The Emperor’s Astrologer and His Legacy, 1599–1687

Further Reading
Photo Acknowledgements

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press