Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society

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Join Bill Bryson on an unforgettable exploration of scientific genius, discovery, and invention. Edited and introduced by Bryson, with original contributions from “a glittering array of scientific writing talent” (Sunday Observer), Seeing Further tells the spectacular story of modern science through the lens of the international Royal Society, founded on a damp November night in London in 1660. Isaac Newton, John Locke, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking—all have been fellows. Its members have split...

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Seeing Further: The Story of Science and the Royal Society

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Join Bill Bryson on an unforgettable exploration of scientific genius, discovery, and invention. Edited and introduced by Bryson, with original contributions from “a glittering array of scientific writing talent” (Sunday Observer), Seeing Further tells the spectacular story of modern science through the lens of the international Royal Society, founded on a damp November night in London in 1660. Isaac Newton, John Locke, Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking—all have been fellows. Its members have split the atom, discovered the double helix and the electron, and given us the computer and the World Wide Web. Gorgeously illustrated with photographs, documents, and treasures from the Society’s exclusive archives, Seeing Further is an unprecedented celebration of the power of ideas.

Featuring contributions from more than twenty of the world’s greatest scientific—and science-fiction—thinkers, including:

Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene; The God Delusion), James Gleick (The Information), Neal Stephenson (Cryptonomicon), Richard Holmes (The Age of Wonder), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid’s Tale), and Martin Rees (former President of the Royal Society).

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Editorial Reviews

The Economist
“Bill Bryson is as amusing as ever . . . As a celebration of modern science, Seeing Further is a worthy tribute.”
Vanity Fair
“Bill Bryson exhibits a wealth of essays on the scientific discoveries and exploits of the Royal Society”
Discover magazine (Hot Science)
“Traces the Royal Society’s unparalled contributions to science, celebrating not just the famous members like Isaac Newton but also the oddballs.”
Minneapolis Star-Tribune (A Best Book of the Year selection)
“A treasure trove for lovers of science and history. These pages brim with revolutionary discoveries.”
(A Best Book of the Year selection) - Minneapolis Star-Tribune
"A treasure trove for lovers of science and history. These pages brim with revolutionary discoveries."
(Hot Science) - Discover Magazine
"Traces the Royal Society’s unparalled contributions to science, celebrating not just the famous members like Isaac Newton but also the oddballs."
Publishers Weekly
Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) presents a remarkable collection of essays celebrating the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society of London and its many contributions to science. Society members have included such illustrious names as Darwin, Newton, Leibniz, and Francis Bacon, to name a few. The volume's 23 contributors are both uniformly excellent and remarkable for their diversity. For example, novelist Margaret Atwood writes a very personal piece about the image of the scientist and its sometime appearance as the "mad scientist." Science historian Paul Davies writes about the effects on Western society of the realization that we are not the center of the universe. Biologist Richard Dawkins opines about the revolutionary nature of Darwin's discoveries, and science fiction writer Gregory Benford contemplates the meaning of time. The wide array of scientific disciplines, including genetics, climate change, physics, and engineering, are each placed in a fresh and thought-provoking social and historical context. Bryson's name will bring readers in, but the real reward is fine writers writing about serious science in an accessible, good-natured style. It is a worthy celebration of the Royal Society. Color illus. (Nov.)
Library Journal
Science advances so quickly that many of its institutions flourish briefly then become obsolete. Not so Britain's Royal Society, soon to celebrate its 350th birthday. By its mission, "the promoting of experimental philosophy," the Society's members essentially invented the scientific method. Bryson, an American known for his generalist approach to science writing, is an unusual choice to edit this semischolarly and at times quaint anthology. The eclectic roster of contributors includes such renowned figures as science journalist James Gleick on the founding of the Society, novelist Margaret Atwood writing about Jonathan Swift, historian Richard Holmes on the late 18th-century ballooning craze, the evolutionary biologist and social critic Richard Dawkins discussing how Darwin arrived at his theories, engineer Henry Petroski looking at the great structures of the 19th and early 20th centuries, and others whose names fans of popular science will recognize. The collection climaxes in a speculative essay by Sir Martin Rees, the Society's president, on the next 50 years. VERDICT This is a commemorative, collector's item with world-class contributors, worth acquiring for that reason alone. Its most ardent readers will be science history buffs.—Gregg Sapp, Evergreen State Coll., Olympia, WA
Library Journal - Booksmack!
Bryson gathers a bevy of writers together to celebrate the creation and work of the Royal Society during its 350th anniversary. Inspired by Christopher Wren's lecture on astronomy, the Royal Society began with the mission of promoting experimental philosophy. What that boiled down to was inventing modern science. Among the luminaries contributing to Bryson's homage are James Gleick, who dives into the society's abundant history; Margaret Atwood, who explores the dark archetype of the mad scientist; John D. Barrow, who explains why mathematics is everything; and Richard Holmes, who explores the delights and experiments of ballooning. Bryson and his contributors have created a smart, celebratory work full of science, stories, history, and biography that lures readers in with its expansive view and lush illustrations. It is a grand and consuming work that makes you happy it exists in the world. Neal Wyatt, "RA Crossroads", Booksmack!, 12/2/10
Kirkus Reviews

The Royal Society has been incubating and disseminating scientific illumination for 350 years, as Bryson (Shakespeare: The World as Stage, 2007, etc.) and his fellow contributors gracefully attest.

"The Royal Society has been doing interesting and heroic things...since 1660," writes the author, and it is alive and well, still fulfilling its self-ordained mission "to assist and promote the accumulation of useful knowledge." Or even just potentially useful knowledge, like Thomas Bayes' theorem of inverse probabilities, which had no practical application at its creation but looked promising; the Society published and preserved it, much to the future gratitude of astrophysicists and stock-market analysts. The Society invented scientific publishing and peer review and demanded clarity in scientific expression, and it brought together great minds in a cosmopolitan milieu blind to class. A revolutionary institution, then, encouraging further revolutions, such as the seditions of Darwin ("Before Darwin," writes Richard Dawkins, "it took a philosopher of the caliber of David Hume to rumble the illogic of 'if a thing looks designed it must have been designed' ") and the metaphysics of Leibniz, whom Neal Stephenson notes "practised an ecumenicism that in a lesser mind would strike us as suspicious or even craven." These essays from a gathering of bell-clear writers and thinkers—including, among others, Richard Fortey, Margaret Atwood and Martin Rees—cover a swath of the Society's activities, from the mass appeal of ballooning to the rarefied precincts where mathematical rationalists duke it out with experimental empiricists. Throughout the book runs a sharp humanism, typified by the crystallographers, writes Georgina Ferry, with their interlocking stories about collegiality and women in science.

Premium vest-pocket histories of science.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061999772
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/8/2011
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Sales rank: 257,620
  • Product dimensions: 6.78 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 1.12 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Bryson

Bill Bryson is the bestselling author of At Home, A Walk in the Woods, The Lost Continent, Made in America, The Mother Tongue, and A Short History of Nearly Everything, winner of the Aventis Prize. Born in Des Moines, Iowa, Bryson lives in England with his wife and children.


A backpacking expedition in 1973 brought Des Moines native Bill Bryson to England, where he met his wife and decided to settle. He wrote travel articles for the English newspapers The Times and The Independent for many years before stumbling into bestsellerdom with 1989's The Lost Continent, a sidesplitting account of his rollicking road trip across small-town America. In 1995, he moved his family back to the States so his children could experience "being American." However, his deep-rooted Anglophilia won out and, in 2003, the Brysons returned to England.

One of those people who finds nearly everything interesting, Bryson has managed to turn his twin loves -- travel and language -- into a successful literary career. In a string of hilarious bestsellers, he has chronicled his misadventures across England, Europe, Australia, and the U.S., delighting readers with his wry observations and descriptions. Similarly, his books on the history of the English language, infused with the perfect combination of wit and erudition, have sold well. He has received several accolades and honors, including the coveted Aventis Prize for best general science book awarded for his blockbuster A Short History of Nearly Everything.

Beloved on both sides of the pond, Bryson makes few claims to write great literature. But he is a writer it is nearly impossible to dislike. We defy anyone to not smile at pithy, epigrammatic opening lines like these: "I come from Des Moines. Someone had to."

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    1. Hometown:
      Hanover, New Hampshire
    1. Date of Birth:
    2. Place of Birth:
      Des Moines, Iowa
    1. Education:
      B.A., Drake University, 1977

Table of Contents

Introduction & Acknowledgments Bill Bryson 1

1 At The Beginning: More Things In Heaven And Earth James Gleick 17

2 Of The Madness Oe Mad Scientists: Jonathan Swift's Grand Academy Margaret Atwood 37

3 Lost In Space: The Spiritual Crisis Oe Newtonian Cosmology Margaret Wertheim 59

4 Atoms Of Cognition: Metaphysics In The Royal Society. 1715-2010 Neal Stephenson 83

5 What's In A Name? Rivalries And The Birth Op Modern Science Rebecca Newberger Goldstein 107

6 Charged Atmospheres: Promethean Science And The Royal Society Simon Schaffer 131

7 A New Age Of Elight: Joseph Banks Goes Ballooning Richard Holmes 157

8 Archives Oe Life: Science And Collections Richard Fortey 183

9 Darwin's Live Bridges: The Way To Natural Selection Richard Dawkins 203

10 Images Of Progress: Conferences Oe Engineers Henry Petroski 229

11 X-Rayvisions: Structural. Biologists And Social Action In The Twentieth Century Georgina Ferry 251

12 Ten Thousand Wedges: Biodiversity. Naturae Selection And Random Change Steve Jones 273

13 Making Stuff: From Bacon To Rakelite Philip Ball 295

14 Just Typical: Our Changing Place In The Universe Paul Davies 321

15 Behind The Scenes: The Hidden Mathematics That Rules Our World Ian Stewart 341

16 Simple, Really- From Simplicity To Complexity - And Back Again John D. Barrow 361

17 Globe And Sphere. Cycles And Plows: How To See The World Oliver Morton 385

18 Beyond Ending: Looking Into The Void Maggie Gee 405

19 Confidence. Consensus And The Uncertainty Cops: Tackling Risk Management In Climate Change Stephen H. Schneider 425

20 Time: The Winged Chariot Gregory Benford 445

Conclusion: Looking Fifty Years Ahead Martin Rees 467

Further Reading 486

List Of Illustrations 490

Index 491

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 28, 2011

    Just starting to explore - undecided but not immediately excited

    This book is not authored by Bill Bryson but rather is edited by Bill Bryson. Each chapter is a separate author, 20 or so in all. So far I have just skimmed a few chapters and have not yet found it captivating as I was hoping and expecting but there is still plenty more to explore. I expect that each chapter will be somewhat unique with perhaps little gems in store but not a Bill Bryson book.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 29, 2012

    A Great Read

    Anybody interested in the history of science will enjoy this book.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 1, 2012

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    Posted November 26, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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