Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life

Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers: How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life

by Tamara Plakins Thornton


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In this engagingly written biography, Tamara Plakins Thornton delves into the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a man Thomas Jefferson once called a "meteor in the hemisphere." Bowditch was a mathematician, astronomer, navigator, seafarer, and business executive whose Enlightenment-inspired perspectives shaped nineteenth-century capitalism while transforming American life more broadly. Enthralled with the precision and certainty of numbers and the unerring regularity of the physical universe, Bowditch operated and represented some of New England's most powerful institutions—from financial corporations to Harvard College—as clockwork mechanisms. By examining Bowditch's pathbreaking approaches to institutions, as well as the political and social controversies they provoked, Thornton's biography sheds new light on the rise of capitalism, American science, and social elites in the early republic.

Fleshing out the multiple careers of Nathaniel Bowditch, this book is at once a lively biography, a window into the birth of bureaucracy, and a portrait of patrician life, giving us a broader, more-nuanced understanding of how powerful capitalists operated during this era and how the emerging quantitative sciences shaped the modern experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781469626932
Publisher: The University of North Carolina Press
Publication date: 04/18/2016
Pages: 416
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Tamara Plakins Thornton is professor of history at the State University of New York, Buffalo.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

I loved this book from beginning to end. Well written, well argued, well organized, thoroughly researched, interesting, and thought-provoking, Tamara Thornton writes with complete command of both her immediate subject, Nathaniel Bowditch, and all the larger issues surrounding his life.—Sharon Ann Murphy, Providence College

Thornton tells a fascinating story with considerable grace, and her conclusions make a significant contribution to the issue of social, economic, and cultural transformation in the early nineteenth century. Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers is, among other things, a fluent biography of a significant if curious American public figure who possessed a broad splash of eccentricity that any reader would enjoy encountering.—Daniel Vickers, University of British Columbia

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