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| William Gilbert
In 1600, four hundred years ago William Gilbert, later physician to Queen Elizabeth I of England, published his great study of magnetism, "De Magnete"--"On the Magnet". It gave the first rational explanation to the mysterious ability of the compass needle to point north-south: the Earth itself was magnetic. "De Magnete" opened the era of modern physics and astronomy and started a century marked by the great achievements of Galileo, Kepler, Newton and others.
If you lived in London in 1600, you could have purchased "De Magnete" for seven shillings and sixpence. To read it, of course, you would have to know Latin, the language of science in 1600. You might have had the rare privilege of attending first runs of Shakespeare's plays in the "Globe" theatre--sitting in the balcony if you could afford it, standing in front of the stage if not. However, you might have had to weigh this pleasure against the peril of bubonic plague, which usually spread in the city during summer months.