Reviews of Doris Hellman's books

Doris Hellman wrote one book and translated and edited a second book. We give below brief extracts from reviews of these two book. For the one which she translated and edited we give the reviewer's comments about Doris Hellman's contributions.


  1. The Comet of 1577: Its Place in the History of Astronomy, by C Doris Hellman (1944).

    1.1. Review by: Pearl Kibre.
    Speculum 20 (3) (1945), 354-355.

    Of obvious interest to the medievalist is the summary account of cometary theory in the middle ages contained in the first two chapters of the above work. Following the review of the leading writers on comets from antiquity to 1577 are the chapters dealing specifically with the treatises on the comet of 1577. For the earlier period, Dr Hellman has wisely leaned heavily upon the researches of other scholars, chief among them Lynn Thorndike and George Sarton. But for the accounts of the comet of 1577, written not only by 'men with a scientific background,' but also by preachers, poets, persons of general culture, and astrologers, she has examined directly the works themselves, and has given full bibliographical descriptions in an appendix. In thus presenting a chronological survey of cometary history from antiquity through 1577, Dr Hellman has provided interesting evidence for the continuity of cometary thought throughout the entire period ...

    1.2. Review by: N T Bobrovnikoff.
    Isis 36 (3/4) (1946), 266-270.

    The author of a book on a specific historic phenomenon like the comet of 1577 is always at liberty to choose what to include and what to omit. Miss Hellman devoted 117 pages to the views on comets held before the year 1572, and it was a wise step. She placed herself under obligation by using the subtitle of the book, "Its Place in the History of Astronomy," to trace the impression produced by this comet on the successors of Tycho Brahe, but she did practically nothing about it. The comet made a great impression and was quoted constantly from Kepler through Newton, and down to the present day. Although treating of a distinctly astronomical subject, she paid little attention to what astronomers had to say about this comet. Concentrating on one single scientific fact, the presence or absence of the parallax, she largely neglected physical characteristics of this comet, its brightness, its size, the structure of its tail, etc. Nevertheless the book is a very valuable contribution to the history of astronomy. The overwhelming mass of material collected and systematized will insure its importance for a long time. It is quite evident that Miss Hellman did not miss many authors of the time who had anything at all to say about the comet. Introducing an author she not only gives his biography, but his bibliography as well, whether concerned with the comet or not.

  2. Kepler, by Max Caspar, translated and edited by C Doris Hellman (1959).

    2.1. Review by: Edward Rosen.
    The American Historical Review 66 (1) (1960), 150-151.

    The present volume is a translation of this biography into English by C Doris Hellman, who teaches the history of science at Pratt Institute. She had demonstrated her fitness for this task by her own independent contributions to our knowledge of sixteenth-century astronomy. But she has done more than merely turn Caspar's German into English. Although he was a master of both the primary sources and the secondary literature available on the subject, he decided to write for the general public and not to document his assertions, even when these corrected the errors of earlier biographers. On the other hand, Miss Hellman has enhanced the value of the English version by appropriate citations of recent discussions, as well as by explanations of Caspar's obscurities, completions of his partial statements, and emendations of his occasional slips. Thus, in her translation as in the 1958 edition, Kepler is no longer a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, a mistake made in the 1948 edition and repeated in Arthur Koestler's 'Sleepwalkers'. Pleased as Miss Hellman's readers will surely be to have her English rendering of Caspar's German, they would be even happier if she had not left much of Kepler's Latin untranslated. In one such case the unintentional omission of an essential word leaves the rest of the quotation unintelligible even to those who may still be familiar with the dead language which Kepler used so fluently and so idiosyncratically. Sometimes Miss Hellman has followed the German word order too faithfully. Here and there the exact English equivalent of the original has escaped her.

    2.2. Review by: William D Stahlman.
    Science, New Series 131 (3408) (1960), 1203.

    The translation reads smoothly (though one might, for example, quibble that the term 'planet laws', which occurs repeatedly, is usually rendered in English as 'planetary laws'), and the book has been very carefully proof-read. In addition, and at least as important and welcome, are the excellent footnotes which Doris Hellman has added. These give the reader invaluable historical and bibliographical help.

    2.3. Review of the Dover Reprint by: Albert Van Helden.
    Isis 87 (1) (1996), 165-166.

    Max Caspar's 'Kepler', first published in German in 1948, is still the standard complete narrative of Johannes Kepler's life. Anglophone audiences have benefited from the beautiful translation published in 1959 by C Doris Hellman. Hellman stated in her foreword to the English edition that she had not shortened the passages about Kepler's mother's witch trial and about the religious conflicts as she had originally intended to do. That she could even have contemplated this gives an indication of just how much areas of concern in the history of science have changed in the intervening period. Yet despite the enormous amount of research to which Kepler's work has been subjected in the past half century, Caspar's biography has not been replaced; indeed, it has not been challenged.


JOC/EFR April 2015

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