The First Scientist: The Visionary Genius of Roger Bacon

The First Scientist: The Visionary Genius of Roger Bacon

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by Brian Clegg
     
 

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The First Scientist is the first full-length biography in 50 years of the medieval monk who brought science out of the Dark Ages. Legend transformed the thirteenth-century English friar Roger Bacon into the Faustlike sorcerer "Doctor Mirabilis," but today he is recognized as science's first pioneer in Europe. Science writer Brian Clegg bypasses the vicissitudes of

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Overview

The First Scientist is the first full-length biography in 50 years of the medieval monk who brought science out of the Dark Ages. Legend transformed the thirteenth-century English friar Roger Bacon into the Faustlike sorcerer "Doctor Mirabilis," but today he is recognized as science's first pioneer in Europe. Science writer Brian Clegg bypasses the vicissitudes of Bacon's reputation, which range from miracle-worker to charlatan, and places the true individual in the often contentious intellectual atmosphere of the late medieval era. In this vivid biography, he portrays Bacon as not only a lucid observer of nature, rigorous experimenter, and gifted mathematician, but also an original theologian and philosopher—a man who, like Galileo, would suffer imprisonment in his quest for the true nature of the world. Clegg traces Bacon's career from his popularity as a teacher at Oxford and Paris, through his innovations in calendar reform, optics, a flying machine (over 200 years before Leonardo da Vinci's), and, most famously, development of the principle of inductive experimental science. Clegg narrates how Bacon, once censored by his order, briefly wrote on experimental science and natural philosophy under Pope Clement IV's patronage, but then was imprisoned as a margician by the church after Clement's death. Clegg also unravels the controversy over the "Voynich" cypher manuscript—which some claimed Bacon wrote in code to detail his experiments with microscopes and astronomy—and the subsequent backlash against Bacon's reputation as a scientist ahead of his time.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Life-and-times biography of the English friar whose scientific work prompted accusations of heresy. The main traces of Roger Bacon (ca. 1220-92) in the historical record consist of his own writings, which make little reference to the details of his life. We know he attended and taught at Oxford and the University of Paris, that he became a Franciscan, that he was ordered by Pope Clement IV to write an overview of natural philosophy, that he spent his later years in prison. The rest is guesswork; much of the biographer’s task consists of separating truth from the Faust-like legends that grew up around him. British science writer Clegg compensates by grounding Bacon in the context of his age. For example, the £2,000 that the friar spent on books and experiments over the course of 20 years is an astonishing total, considering that the king’s revenue in 1217 was £35,000. Bacon was the first European to describe gunpowder, though Clegg points out that his formula is of little use as an explosive. Nor did he perform as many experiments as his contemporary Peter Peregrinus. What makes Bacon the founder of science, in the author’s view, is his insistence on the primacy of mathematics, his openness to information whatever the source, a willingness to communicate ideas (if only to the educated elite), and belief in experiment. These were radical ideas in the 13th century, when mathematics was widely confused with conjuring, and adopting ideas from non-Christian sources smacked of heresy. Bacon’s scientific career was cut short by the death of Clement, whose patronage protected him though the pope probably never read his books. The church then prevented him from writing; even his proposal forcalendar reform was ignored by authorities for nearly three centuries. Tantalizing glimpses of a progressive thinker who never lived to see his ideas bear fruit, but Clegg ultimately falls short of making a case for Bacon as "the first scientist." Agent: Peter Cox/ International Literary Representation & Management

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781841196183
Publisher:
Constable & Robinson Limited
Publication date:
01/01/2003
Pages:
288
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.06(h) x (d)

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The First Scientist 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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