Did you know that the first popular science book in history was published in 1606?

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer and mathematician born into a Protestant Lutheran family who lived in the city of Weil der Stadt, in Baden-Württemberg, in 1571. His father, always absent because he was an army mercenary, favored Kepler raised almost exclusively with his mother, healer and herbalist.

Despite his poor health and poor eyesight, he was a very alert child who was impressed with his mathematical knowledge by impressing travelers in his mother’s hostelry. And after studying theology at the University of Tübingen, including astronomy with Michael Maeslin, a follower of Copernicus, he would teach at the Protestant seminary in Graz. He would also publish what is considered the first popular science book in history.

Kepler was not only committed to finding objective facts, but also to conveying them as effectively as possible. For this reason, on the cover of his book Stella nova (New star, 1606) appears the image of a hen pecking at the ground of a farm, with the motto (“searching in the manure, finds a grain”). In this way, not only did he explain in an image what was behind the cover of his book, but he called the reader’s attention to check it out.

His text also hinted at some rhetorical techniques that are currently used in the field of popular science, such as incorporating apparently superfluous details that served to contextualize and make what was exposed closer to the reader, involving him in the story.

In this way, Kepler not only exposed his findings, but also how he had achieved them, reporting his failures, the dead ends he had taken, in order to give the story a more human but also more epic background. His book was probably the first to present all these elements to convince the reader that his measurements were accurate while making an effort to make the data more digestible.

Scientific popularization, thus, was taking its first steps, allowing some people, perhaps laymen on the subject, to use a kind of particularly polished lens to see the world in another way: as something knowable and measurable, although also more complex than what it seemed, not so subject to divine discretion. A lens that allows you to be smarter but also assume that you are dumber.

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