NewsLocal NewsYour Voice


’It’s almost like a time machine’: Library acquires 3rd version of Galileo’s 414-year-old book

Linda Hall Library is the only place in the world with all three original versions of the publication
Posted: 2:14 PM, Jul 05, 2024
Updated: 2024-07-08 08:36:05-04
galileo book.JPG

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jason Dean’s enthusiasm about books is infectious. That passion makes him the perfect person to oversee rare books at the Linda Hall Library in Kansas City, Missouri.

Dean gave KSHB 41 News an exclusive look at one of the library’s newest acquisitions: Sidereus Nuncius, a 414-year-old book written by Italian scientist and astronomer Galileo Galilei.

VOICE FOR EVERYONE | Share your voice with KSHB 41’s Charlie Keegan

Dean said publishers essentially printed three versions of the book 400 years ago. One in Venice on fine paper, another in Venice on ordinary paper and a third in Frankfurt.

Roughly 90 of the estimated 550 books from Venice exist today. Only 15 copies of the Frankfurt edition exist today, according to Dean.

The Linda Hall Library already had copies of the Frankfurt edition and the fine paper edition from Venice. Last year, it acquired an ordinary paper Venice edition. The library is now the only place in the world with all three original versions of the publication

“While this is the same word on the page here, each of them tell us something different about Galileo’s intentions and tell us something different about the world Galileo lived in,” Dean said.

jason dean1.png
Jason Dean is the Vice President of Special Collections and Public Services at the Linda B. Hall Library in Kansas City, Mo.

This is where Dean turns into a bit of a detective using the book to go back in time. The library knows Galileo sent the fine paper copy from Venice to a monk who helped him name the publication - which translates from Latin to “starry messenger.”

Dean found handwritten notes on the margins of both Venice editions. Dean believes Galileo himself wrote those corrections.

“To touch something Galileo himself touched, yeah, it’s pretty good,” Dean admitted. “It’s actually I think really thrilling and kind of gives I think an indication of why people love old and rare books so much because it’s almost like a time machine. It puts you in contact with a past generation.”

Sidereus Nuncius was important to past generations because it was the first time anyone published that the moon was a sphere instead of a flat plate in the sky. The book also gave credence to the use of instruments in science. Galileo relied on a telescope for many of the observations printed in the book. Plus, Dean said Galileo wrote the book so everyone could understand it.

“He worked very hard - in this book in particular - to make the narrative very accessible. So we have a translation which is super easy to read. It’s actually kind of fun. He’s a fun writer,” Dean said.

Accessibility is part of the Linda Hall Library’s mission. The independent science research library will display the ordinary paper Venice edition during a rare books exhibit beginning July 25. Anyone can visit the exhibit - which will include books from as long ago as the 1400s - during weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Linda Hall Library is located at 5109 Cherry St. in Kansas City, Missouri.

jason dean2.png
Jason Dean (right) gives KSHB 41 News Reporter Charlie Keegan an exclusive look at the Linda B. Hall Library's newly acquired original copy of Galileo's Sidereus Nuncius which was first published in 1610.

The library makes its rare books available for check out. To view and hold the original, someone needs a legitimate research purpose. Patrons aren’t allowed to take the books home, instead they schedule an appointment to review the books at the library.

The library also scanned all three publications of Sidereus Nuncius and made them available to view on the internet. Dean likes to imagine what Galileo would think of his work living on the World Wide Web.

“I think Galileo would be a fan of the Linda Hall Library. We love Galileo,” Dean said. “I think one of the things he’s really concerned about is making sure his work gets out in front of the maximum number of people. We are just amplifying that by what we do here.”

As for the price of a 414-year-old book, Dean said the library paid a price to purchase the book, but argues it’s now invaluable because the library will keep it forever so the book will not enter the market where it could get a price.

Editor's note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly called the library the Linda B. Hall Library.