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February 2013

Snapshots in History: February 19: Remembering Nicolaus Copernicus (1473-1543)

February 19, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)

Nicolaus Copernicus was born 540 years ago today on February 19, 1473 and died at 70 years of age on May 24, 1543. Copernicus deserves our attention as he was the astronomer who began to nudge humanity towards its place in the universe, notably postulating that the Earth, other planets and celestial bodies orbited the Sun rather than the Earth being the centre of the universe as was previously believed. The fact that he was able to develop his sun-centered theory (based partly on observation) before the advent of the telescope is nothing short of remarkable.  

Consider the writings of Nicholas Copernicus available for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:


Three Copernican Treatises

Three Copernican treatises / Nicolaus Copernicus, 2004.

These writings were unavailable in English until 1939. The Commentariolus by Copernicus outlined his theories on heavenly motions developed around 1530. The Letter against Werner outlined Copernicus’ refutation of the work of astronomer and parish priest Johannes Werner who used trepidations methodology to describe the precession of the equinoxes. The third document, the Narratio prima, was written in 1540 by Georg Joachim Rheticus who explained the new theories developed by Copernicus in a letter to the astronomer Johannes Schöner.


On the revolution of heavenly spheres / Nicolaus Copernicus, 1995.

Copernicus outlined his heliocentric theory in which planets (including Earth) orbited the Sun. This contrasted sharply to the generally accepted geocentric view (developed by Ptolemy) that the Earth was at the centre of all orbiting bodies. This influential work was published around the time of Copernicus’ death in 1543.


Now consider what others had to say about Copernicus and his theories. Here are some examples of titles available for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:


The Book Nobody Read

The book nobody read: chasing the revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus / Owen Gingerich, 2004.

Harvard astrophysicist Gingerich sought out to examine various copies of Copernicus’ De revolutionibus orbium caelestium (On the revolution of heavenly spheres) around the world to determine their provenance and how much each copy of the book might have been read. This was partly to counter the assertion made by Arthur Koestler in The sleepwalkers: a history of man's changing vision of the Universe that nobody had read On the revolution of heavenly spheres .


Copernicus' secret

Copernicus' secret: how the scientific revolution began / Jack Repcheck, 2007.

Repcheck emphasized the role of German mathematician Georg Joachim Rheticus, who as both an ally and a pupil of Copernicus, encouraged and assisted Copernicus in publishing On the revolution of heavenly spheres just before Copernicus died in 1543. Some assert that Copernicus’ work was one sign of the beginning of the Scientific Revolution at the end of the Renaissance period.


A More Perfect Heaven

A more perfect heaven: how Nicolaus Copernicus revolutionized the cosmos [1st U.S. ed.] / Dava Sobel, 2011.

Popular science writer Sobel focused on the context of Copernicus’ life in sociopolitical and religious terms. He was well-educated with a doctorate in canon law, and engaged in astronomy, medicine, and economics. Copernicus worked as a church canon dealing in the buying and selling of land. The author also dealt with the role of Georg Joachim Rheticus in the publication of On the revolution of heavenly spheres (to which Copernicus reluctantly agreed as he was concerned about the Catholic Church’s reaction to his theories) as well as the influence of Copernicus in fostering greater acceptance of the sun-centered solar system and the contributions of astronomers who followed Copernicus including Tycho Brahe, Johannes Kepler, and Galileo Galilei.

Also available in eBook (OverDrive) and eAudiobook (One Click Digital) formats.


Uncentering the Earth

Uncentering the Earth: Copernicus and The revolutions of the heavenly spheres [1st ed.] / William T. Vollmann, 2006.

Novelist Vollmann produced an interesting, non-fiction work here about the influence of Nicolaus Copernicus and his heliocentric theory of planets orbiting the sun as expressed in On the revolution of heavenly spheres (rather than the Earth being the centre of the universe as was officially believed by Christian churches at the time). Vollmann worked through some of Copernicus’ inaccuracies but acknowledged that Copernicus produced his theories before the invention of the telescope, leading to the growing importance of observation in scientific research.

Financial Literacy: Lessons for Life - OSAP

February 17, 2013 | Winona | Comments (0)

Need help paying for your education after high school?

OSAP banner
If you are a resident of Ontario you can apply for government funding through the Ontario School Assistance Program (also known as OSAP). OSAP is designed to help eligible students of all ages with the financial assistance they need to meet the costs of post-secondary education, be it at college or university, or in an apprenticeship program. OSAP offers two kinds of funding: grant monies and student loans. If you apply for OSAP, you are automatically considered for 30% off tuition too. 

OSAP is a great resource but it can be confusing to make sense of all the eligibility requirements, understand how to receive your funding, and figure out how you're going to pay it back.

If you'd like to learn more about OSAP, come to Albert Campbell on Wednesday February 20, 2013, at 5:00 p.m. for Financial Literacy: Lessons for Life - OSAP, part of the library's Money Matters series. An expert from JVS Toronto will provide you with the information you need to know about managing an OSAP loan and finding your way through all the rules and regulations.

Interested in learning more about the different options for financing your post-secondary school education in Canada? Check out the selected books and websites linked below.

But first, a few useful terms:

  • Loan: money that is borrowed and that must be paid back, usually with interest (that's more money).
  • Scholarship: money that is received to finance a student's education, does not have to be paid back, and is usually awarded based on academic achievement.
  • Bursary or grant: money that is received to finance a student's education, does not have to be paid back, and is usually awarded based on financial need.

Books (click on the book cover to see which library branch has that book):

Canadian College Scholarship Handbook by Brian Harris      Canadian University Scholarship Handbook by Brian Harris      Guide to Canadian Scholarships by Canada Grants Service      Guide to Canadian Grants and Assistance Programs

E-book (click on the image to access this book from anywhere with your library card and PIN):

The College Blue Book by Gale 


  • Scholarships Canada: a searchable database of scholarships and student awards, as well as bursaries and grants. Free to use but registration is required.
  • Student Awards: another searchable database of scholarships and other financial awards. Matches student profiles with suitable awards.
  • CanLearn: a federal government portal with extensive information about education savings plans, student loans, grants, scholarships, etc.
  • Service Canada: a federal government site with links to information on education and training plans for students, including the Skills Link Program, the Apprenticeship Incentive Grant and the Lifelong Learning Plan.
  • For more recommended websites on scholarships, grants, and financial aid for education, click here.

Celestial Incursions: Past and Present: Tunguska 1908 and Chelyabinsk 2013

February 15, 2013 | John P. | Comments (0)




Many have by now heard about the exploding meteor that injured many people in Central Russia on February 15, 2013 in the Chelyabinsk region as well as damaging much property. Stuart Clark, writing in The Guardian, offered an excellent question and answer article to readers, including questions about the February 15, 2013 event as well distinguishing between an asteroid, a meteor, a meteorite, and a meteoroid. Those with an interest in astronomy and earth sciences might want to read about the Tunguska event of June 30, 1908 in which a celestial body (possibly an asteroid or a comet) exploded over Siberia in Russia, levelling forests over an area comprising some 2,150 square kilometers.




Toronto Public Library’s collections include book titles published at different times that deal with the Tunguska event and the various theories as to what happened. Science fact, or science fiction? You decide for yourself. Here is a quick look at some titles available at Toronto Public Library:


Cauldron of hell: Tunguska / Jack Stoneley with A.T. Lawton, 1977.

Stoneley expounded upon some of the possible theories connected to the Tunguska event, including extremely large ball lightning, a black hole, anti-matter, an exploding alien space vehicle and so on. (See also: Kirkus Review, 1977.)  Place Hold


The fire came by: the riddle of the great Siberian explosion / John Baxter and Thomas R. Atkins, 1976.

 Baxter and Atkins discredited the possible black hole and anti-matter theories offered to explain the Tunguska event but settled on an atomic or nuclear event, possibly by the explosion of an overheated extraterrestrial spaceship, owing to a melted fuel core. (See also: Kirkus Review, 1976.)  Place Hold


The Mystery of the Tunguska Fireball

The mystery of the Tunguska fireball / Surendra Verma, 2006.

The Tunguska event did not produce a crater or leave behind material from outer space that was recovered. Consequently, a meteorite was not the likely culprit for causing an explosion. Verma examined a variety of theories (including a comet, anti-matter, a small black hole, a lightning ball, and an alien spacecraft) by looking at their pros and cons and impartially analyzing the evidence. Brian Clegg, reviewing the book in Popular Science, argued that the book had structural problems and that readers might be confused with the move from theory to theory and from argument to counter-argument, in addition to a digression on the extinction of dinosaurs (and a possible link to what happened in 1908). Place Hold


The Tunguska Mystery


The Tunguska mystery / V.V. Rubtsov, 2009.

The author, Director of the Research Institute on Anomalous Phenomena (based in the Ukraine), used the scientific method to examine and dispel many theories that have been advanced about the 1908 Tunguska event, including the impact from a meteorite that left no meteorite fragments. The extraterrestrial vehicle theory has the support of only a limited number of individuals. While other factors were considered, including seeking a statistical explanation for the pattern of felled trees, and thermoluminescent tests for radiation traces, the definitive answer to the Tunguska event has yet to be uncovered. Choice offered a favourable review (accessible in the catalogue record) but the Times Higher Education was more critical, citing the downplaying and dismissal of the explosion of fragments of Comet Shoemaker-Levy in Jupiter’s atmosphere in 1994, in a manner akin to the unfolding of the Tunguska event. Place Hold


Not convinced? Not sure what you think about speculative non-fiction? Are you a fiction reader instead? If the answer is yes, then consider the following title:



Singularity / Bill DeSmedt, 2005.

This debut novel (reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly Review – accessible through the catalogue record), depicted the 1908 Tunguska event then switched to the near-future where scientist Jack Adler discovered that a microscopic black hole was responsible for the 1908 Tunguska event. Marianna Bonaventure of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Critical Resources Oversight Mandate (CROM) worked with analyst Jonathan Knox to infiltrate the holdings of a Russian billionaire to determine his motives for finding the “Tunguska object.” Place Hold

2013: The Year of the Snake

February 8, 2013 | Winona | Comments (0)

Happy New Year! According to the lunar calendar, Sunday February 10, 2013, marks the start of the Year of the Snake. To celebrate the Year of the Snake, I thought I would take you on a serpentine tour of some Toronto Public Library resources related to Chinese New Year and to the animal of the year: the snake!

Year of the Snake Canada Post stamp
Canada Post Year of the Snake stamp
  • You can learn all about Chinese New Year in books for both children and adults.
  • Did you know you can take a free lesson in conversational Mandarin Chinese online through the library? Connect to the Mango Language Learning online database - you just need your library card and an e-mail account to get started.
  • Or, if you are already fluent in Mandarin, consider joining the Mandarin Book Club at the Albert Campbell branch. Toronto Public Library also offers book clubs in Cantonese at other branches.

The snake is the sixth in a cycle of 12 animals in Chinese astrology. It is the most enigmatic sign of the Chinese zodiac, and is said to symbolize intuition, beauty, and grace, as well as cunning and possessiveness. Those born in the Year of the Snake - 2013, 2001, 1989, 1977, 1965, 1953, 1941, and so on in 12 year recurrences - may share these characteristics.

Learn more about the Chinese zodiac and your animal sign, and find out what the Year of the Snake has in store for you:

The Guide to Chinese Horoscopes by Gerry Thompson
The Guide to Chinese Horoscopes
Your Chinese Horoscope 2013 by Neil Somerville
Your Chinese Horoscope 2013
The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes by Theodora and Laura Lau
The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes
The Complete Guide to Chinese Astrology by Derek Walters
The Complete Guide to Chinese Astrology

Just as each year in the 12-year cycle is associated with an animal sign, each animal sign is associated with one of five recurring elements: Metal, Water, Wood, Fire, and Earth. 2013 is the Year of the Water Snake.

Read about the lives of notable people born in the Year of the Water Snake:   

Johannes Brahms by Jan Swafford
Johannes Brahms 
Benazir Bhutto autobiography
Benazir Bhutto
Mao by Alexander Pantsov
Mao Zedong
Oprah by Kitty Kelley
Oprah Winfrey
Mary Pickford by Eileen Whitfield
Mary Pickford

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake
Western Diamondback Rattlesnake from Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia
Olive Sea Snake skeleton
Olive Sea Snake skeleton from Animals: A Visual Encyclopedia

Snakes are both feared and worshipped throughout the world and appear frequently in religion and myth.
  • According to the Judeo-Christian creation narrative, the serpent tricks Eve into eating the forbidden fruit and, as a result, God condemns Adam, Eve, and the serpent for their transgression.
  • In Greek mythology, the Gorgon monster Medusa has living snakes for hair and turns all those who look at her to stone.
  • The Hindu deity Shiva wears a garland of serpents around his neck that signify his power of destruction and renewal, just as the snake has the power to shed its skin and be reborn.
  • The religious ritual of snake handling is practiced in some Pentecostal churches whose believers look to literal interpretations of the Bible to support their practice.
Medusa by Caravaggio
Medusa by Caravaggio

Curl up with a good book about snakes in the scientific and cultural imagination:

The Subtle Beast by André Ménez The Subtle Beast: Snakes, from Myth to Medicine

The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent by Lynne A. Isbell The Fruit, the Tree, and the Serpent: Why We See So Well

The Good and Evil Serpent by James H. Charlesworth
The Good and Evil Serpent: How a Universal Symbol Became Christianized 
Mean and Lowly Things by Kate Jackson
Mean and Lowly Things: Snakes, Science, and Survival in the Congo
Stolen World by Jennie Erin Smith
Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery











Or just tune everything else out and have a listen to the killer sounds of Toronto's own Deadly Snakes, then check out the book about the band.


Snakes not really your thing? Don't worry, you're not alone!


Happy Year of the Snake everybody!


Related blog posts:


The Albert Campbell District Blog is an online resource and place where you can access information related to the Albert Campbell, Eglinton Square, McGregor Park, and Kennedy Eglinton branches. It will feature reading recommendations, information on new titles and resources in the branches, special events and programs, as well as other information of interest to you. We encourage you to make this blog an interactive space by replying and commenting on posts and by subscribing to the RSS feature which allows you to receive blog updates without having to search for them.