In his latest book, astrophysicist and veteran science writer Gribbin (In Search of Schr dinger's Cat) sweeps away the dust of historical distance to offer a detailed look into the lives and obsessions of the men at the heart of the scientific revolution and the birth of the Royal Society: "the right people, in the right place, at the right time." Italy, says Gribbin, would have birthed the scientific revolution, building on Galileo's efforts, but for the stifling interference of the Catholic Church. Meanwhile William Gilbert was studying magnetism in England and advocating the use of hands-on methods-experimentation-countering the rigid, traditional Aristotelian view that pure thought was enough to understand the workings of the universe. The value of testing hypotheses through experimentation was reinforced by Francis Bacon and created a new generation of thinkers, led by Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle, who created the Royal Society. At first the society was financially dependent on wealthy amateur scientists, but soon Robert Hooke's experiments in physics and chemistry made the society justly famous. Isaac Newton "completed the task of turning a somewhat dilettante gentleman's talking shop into a truly learned society." Gribbin is an ideal and entertaining narrator for this lively story of intellectual discovery and brotherhood. Illus. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Readers with any interest in the creation, development, and acceptance of the scientific method will get caught up in the excitement Gribbin (Science: A History) brings to this chronicle of modern science's beginnings. The author devotes a chapter each to the lives of the five titular scientists—William Gilbert, Francis Bacon, William Harvey, Christopher Wren, and Isaac Newton—plus several others who lived between the 1500s and the early 1700s. Besides clearly and evenly discussing each man's originality, brilliance, contributions, and flaws, Gribbin also provides biographical information to help readers see the whole person, not just the scientist, as well as historical information. The individuals are linked through the years by friendships, rivalries, science, and politics. The chapters address how some of these men laid the groundwork for the creation of the Royal Society and how others brought the society into existence, kept it alive, and helped it flourish. Trained as an astrophysicist, Gribbin has the rare gift for translating scientific experiments, concepts, and theory into clearly understood sentences with total enjoyment. Required for history of science collections and highly recommended for all other collections.
—Michael D. Cramer
How England's Royal Society was born from, and continued to foster, the groundbreaking innovations of scientists. "The revolution in science was . . . not the work of one man, but of a Fellowship," writes Gribbin (The Scientists, 2003, etc.), seeking to spread praise more widely for the breakthrough usually attributed to Isaac Newton. In 1600, William Gilbert, an Elizabethan physician, published the first careful investigation of magnetism, with conclusions firmly based in experiments that Gilbert himself performed and described for the reader. Another Elizabethan doctor, William Harvey, used experimental techniques to trace the circulation of blood. Around the same time, Sir Francis Bacon laid a philosophical foundation for the scientific method. Bacon's emphasis on experiment and on the practical value of scientific investigations inspired a group of men who began meeting at Oxford in the 1650s to discuss scientific questions. The group included several who would go on to make their marks in science, but one stood out: Robert Hooke, perhaps the last true scientific polymath. When the Oxford group evolved into the Royal Society in 1660, Hooke became the leading light of British science. In fact, Gribbin argues, Hooke clearly anticipated several of Newton's chief discoveries; only his low social status and less-developed mathematical skill kept him from being granted equal stature with his rival. Newton, for his part, did his best to keep Hooke in the shadows, going so far as to lose the only known portrait of his competitor when he supervised the relocation of the Society to new quarters in 1710. Gribbin concludes the narrative with Edmund Halley, probably the finest astronomer of hisera. Halley encouraged Newton to publish, and his 1705 prediction of the return of the comet now named for him demonstrated the accuracy and universality of Newtonian theories. Full of interesting detail and anecdotage, a warm and readable history of a key era in science. Agent: Bruce Hunter/David Higham Associates
Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.48 (h) x 1.30 (d)
Meet the Author
John Gribbin, Ph.D., trained as an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge before becoming a full-time science writer. His books include the highly acclaimed In Search of Schrödinger's Cat, The First Chimpanzee, In Search of the Big Bang, In the Beginning, In Search of the Edge of Time, In Search of the Double Helix, The Stuff of the Universe (with Martin Rees), Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science, and Einstein: A Life in Science (with Michael White). He lives in East Sussex with his wife and two sons.