The Atmosphere of Heaven: The Unnatural Experiments of Dr Beddoes and His Sons of Genius

Overview

At the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, England, founded in the closing years of the eighteenth century, dramatic experiments with gases precipitated not only a revolution in scientific medicine but also in the history of ideas. Guided by the energy of maverick doctor Thomas Beddoes, the institution was both laboratory and hospital—the first example of a modern medical research institution. But when its members discovered the mind-altering properties of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, their experiments devolved ...

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Overview

At the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, England, founded in the closing years of the eighteenth century, dramatic experiments with gases precipitated not only a revolution in scientific medicine but also in the history of ideas. Guided by the energy of maverick doctor Thomas Beddoes, the institution was both laboratory and hospital—the first example of a modern medical research institution. But when its members discovered the mind-altering properties of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, their experiments devolved into a pioneering exploration of consciousness with far-reaching and unforeseen effects.

This riveting book is the first to tell the story of Dr. Beddoes and the brilliant circle who surrounded him: Erasmus Darwin, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Southey, who supported his ideas; James Watt, who designed and built his laboratory; Thomas Wedgwood, who funded it; and the dazzling young chemistry assistant, Humphry Davy, who identified nitrous oxide and tested it on himself, with spectacular results. Medical historian Mike Jay charts the chaotic rise and fall of the institution in this fast-paced account, and reveals its crucial influence—on modern drug culture, attitudes toward objective and subjective knowledge, the development of anesthetic surgery, and the birth of the Romantic movement.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In this brilliantly researched and written study, British medical historian Jay (The Air Loom Gang) tells the story of Thomas Beddoes (1760-1808), who established a "Pneumatic Institution" near Bristol to test his theories about using various gases to treat illness. Beddoes's science fell somewhere between alchemy and a truly modern medicine, and he attracted a circle that was dazzling even for its time, when salons brought together the most gifted conversationalists from across the spectrum of society. Beddoes employed the young Humphrey Davy, who quickly made important discoveries about batteries and electricity, and whose investigations of nitrous oxide lent Beddoes's work on gases some degree of respectability. Poets Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey also came into Beddoes's orbit, as did James Watt and Josiah Wedgwood as both sponsors of Beddoes and fathers of two of his consumptive patients. Fans of scientific biography and history of science, as well as history buffs in general, will be engrossed by Jay's marvelous study of an unusual man and the political and intellectual ferment of his time. Illus. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300168914
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 11/2/2010
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Mike Jay has written extensively on scientific and medical history and is a specialist in the study of drugs. His books include the award-winning The Air Loom Gang: The Strange and True Story of James Tilly Matthews and His Visionary Madness. He lives in London.

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