Francis Bacon

Overview

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), commonly regarded as one of the founders of the Scientific Revolution, exerted a powerful influence on the intellectual development of the modern world. He also led a remarkably varied and dramatic life as a philosopher, writer, lawyer, courtier, and statesman. Although there has been much recent scholarship on individual aspects of Bacon's career, Perez Zagorin's is the first work in many years to present a comprehensive account of the entire sweep of his thought and its enduring ...

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Overview

Francis Bacon (1561-1626), commonly regarded as one of the founders of the Scientific Revolution, exerted a powerful influence on the intellectual development of the modern world. He also led a remarkably varied and dramatic life as a philosopher, writer, lawyer, courtier, and statesman. Although there has been much recent scholarship on individual aspects of Bacon's career, Perez Zagorin's is the first work in many years to present a comprehensive account of the entire sweep of his thought and its enduring influence. Combining keen scholarly and psychological insights, Zagorin reveals Bacon as a man of genius, deep paradoxes, and pronounced flaws.

The book begins by sketching Bacon's complex personality and troubled public career. Zagorin shows that, despite his idealistic philosophy and rare intellectual gifts, Bacon's political life was marked by continual careerism in his efforts to achieve advancement. He follows Bacon's rise at court and describes his removal from his office as England's highest judge for taking bribes. Zagorin then examines Bacon's philosophy and theory of science in connection with his project for the promotion of scientific progress, which he called "The Great Instauration." He shows how Bacon's critical empiricism and attempt to develop a new method of discovery made a seminal contribution to the growth of science. He demonstrates Bacon's historic importance as a prophetic thinker, who, at the edge of the modern era, predicted that science would be used to prolong life, cure diseases, invent new materials, and create new weapons of destruction. Finally, the book examines Bacon's writings on such subjects as morals, politics, language, rhetoric, law, and history. Zagorin shows that Bacon was one of the great legal theorists of his day, an influential philosopher of language, and a penetrating historian.

Clearly and beautifully written, the book brings out the richness, scope, and greatness of Bacon's work and draws together the many, colorful threads of an extraordinarily brilliant and many-sided mind.

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Editorial Reviews

Boston Book Review
[Francis Bacon] will be useful to scholars for its ability to organize and explain a large and sometimes unwieldy topic ... and, because of its lucidity and clear-sightedness, it will be of interest to the general reader.
— Charles Davis
Financial Times
A sensitive and sympathetic analysis.... There is always a suspicion, when one reads such a fine-lettered stylist as Bacon, that the prose is glittering with too many nice turns and rhetorical tricks. Zagorin's homage shows the substance to be reassuringly there behind it all.
— Nigel Spivey
Washington Post
Zagorin ... brings a lifetime of learning, as well as personal enthusiasm, to his presentation of Bacon's intellectual accomplishments. This is a book not just to taste, but to chew and digest.
Choice
Eminently readable, expansive in scope, and scintillating. . . . [A] thoroughly researched, authoritative account.
The Times Literary Supplement
A concise but detailed analysis of [Bacon's] whole range of thought.... This penetrating account of Bacon's work can be recommended as the best single-volume study available.
— Brian Vickers
The Wall Street Journal
[An] excellent new biography.
— Roger Kimball
The Times Literary Supplement - Brian Vickers
A concise but detailed analysis of [Bacon's] whole range of thought.... This penetrating account of Bacon's work can be recommended as the best single-volume study available.
Boston Book Review - Charles Davis
[Francis Bacon] will be useful to scholars for its ability to organize and explain a large and sometimes unwieldy topic ... and, because of its lucidity and clear-sightedness, it will be of interest to the general reader.
Financial Times - Nigel Spivey
A sensitive and sympathetic analysis.... There is always a suspicion, when one reads such a fine-lettered stylist as Bacon, that the prose is glittering with too many nice turns and rhetorical tricks. Zagorin's homage shows the substance to be reassuringly there behind it all.
The Wall Street Journal - Roger Kimball
[An] excellent new biography.
From the Publisher
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1998

"A concise but detailed analysis of [Bacon's] whole range of thought.... This penetrating account of Bacon's work can be recommended as the best single-volume study available."—Brian Vickers, The Times Literary Supplement

"[Francis Bacon] will be useful to scholars for its ability to organize and explain a large and sometimes unwieldy topic ... and, because of its lucidity and clear-sightedness, it will be of interest to the general reader."—Charles Davis, Boston Book Review

"A sensitive and sympathetic analysis.... There is always a suspicion, when one reads such a fine-lettered stylist as Bacon, that the prose is glittering with too many nice turns and rhetorical tricks. Zagorin's homage shows the substance to be reassuringly there behind it all."—Nigel Spivey, Financial Times

"Zagorin ... brings a lifetime of learning, as well as personal enthusiasm, to his presentation of Bacon's intellectual accomplishments. This is a book not just to taste, but to chew and digest."Washington Post

"[An] excellent new biography."—Roger Kimball, The Wall Street Journal

"Eminently readable, expansive in scope, and scintillating. . . . [A] thoroughly researched, authoritative account."Choice

Charles Davis
...a detailed and clear analysis of Bacon's philosophy [that also] provid[es] useful and concise information about the man and his historical period. The book will be useful to scholars for its ability to organize and explain a large and sometimes unwieldy topic...; and becuase of its lucidity and clear-sightedness, it will be of interest to the general reader itnerested to make an acquaintance with the man who more than any other individual shaped modern science. -- Boston Book Review
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Francis Bacon, one of the preeminent architects and prophets of the scientific revolution, is frequently acknowledged by philosophers and historians, says Zagorin, but he is almost as frequently misunderstood. This is not so much a biography as an attempt to portray the full range of his intellectual ambitions, which were nothing less than an often futuristic reworking of how humans should think about their natural and social environments. Drawing both on well-known published works such as Novum Organum and The Advancement of Learning as well as on lesser-known fragments, Zagorin (Rebels and Rulers, 1500-1660) attempts to reconstruct the thought and character of this true Renaissance man. Although he starts out with an extensive examination of Bacon's natural philosophy, he does not neglect Bacon's less celebrated investigations into jurisprudence or moral philosophy. In the public sphere, Bacon was, as Zagorin rather daintily puts it, "preeminently practical." In fact, Bacon, a fawning admirer of Machiavelli, took great pains to distance himself from his patron, the Earl of Essex, once the latter fell out of favor. It's not Bacon's finest moment and is sometimes skirted by biographers, but Zagorin generally treats Bacon's shortcomings with historical honesty. Even translated from the (usual) Latin, Bacon's works can still be difficult for modern readers. Unfortunately Zagorin's interpretation doesn't always help matterswitness his translation of Instauratio Magna as The Great Instauration. Also while the book begins enthusiastically, some repetition and lack of focus slow the pace of the last few chapters. (May)
Kirkus Reviews
An erudite investigation into the work of the man regarded as the founder of the Scientific Revolution, this volume attempts to tie together Bacon's many writings, not only on science, but also on language, morals, politics, rhetoric, law, and history. From the outset, Zagorin, a professor of history emeritus at the University of Rochester, clearly states that it is not his intention to write a biography of Bacon, who has been the subject of numerous and recent biographies. However, he does provide a tantalizing glimpse of Bacon's personal life, as well as his flawed character. Much to his credit, Zagorin demythologizes Bacon by detailing his political ambitions and ruthless opportunism. Yet the glimpse is all too brief, and while this biographical introduction informs the rest of the book, Zagorin's later readings of Bacon would have benefited from a more integrated approach toward his life and his work. The bulk of the book is a thorough interpretation of that work and its impact. Zagorin illustrates in a sound and convincing manner how Bacon's philosophy and theory of science had a far-reaching effect on the growth of science. While Bacon made no scientific discoveries of his own, he did believe that science provided humankind with the instrument to master nature. Finally, at the end of the book, the author delves into Bacon's less known works in the humanities, proving that in these fields, too, Bacon was an original and often brilliant thinker. As a legal scholar, for instance, Bacon sought to devise a universal system that went beyond English common law. Though lucidly written, this book still requires a knowledge of Bacon's work as formidable as Zagorin's. A valuable work forthe serious Bacon scholar, but not for the layperson. (20 b&w photos, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691009667
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/1999
  • Series: Princeton Paperbacks Series
  • Pages: 312
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Preface
References and Abbreviations
Ch. 1 Introduction: Bacon's Two Lives 3
Ch. 2 Philosophy and the Reconstruction of Knowledge: The Genesis of Bacon's Project 25
Ch. 3 The Great Instauration 74
Ch. 4 Human Philosophy: Morals and Politics 129
Ch. 5 Language, Law, and History 175
Ch. 6 Conclusion 221
Notes 229
Index 281
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