The surprising and sometimes shocking history of the scientific innovations in Paris during the French Revolution, by the author of Darwin’s Ghost.Paris at the time of the French Revolution was the world capital of science. Its scholars laid the foundations of today's physics, chemistry and biology. They were true revolutionaries: agents of an upheaval both of understanding and of politics.
The city was saturated in scientists; many had an astonishing breadth of talents. The Minister of Finance just before the upheaval did research on crystals and the spread of animal disease. After it, Paris's first mayor was an astronomer, the general who fought off invaders was a mathematician while Marat, a major figure in the Terror, saw himself as a leading physicist. Paris in the century around 1789 saw the first lightning conductor, the first flight, the first estimate of the speed of light and the invention of the tin can and the stethoscope. The theory of evolution came into being.
Perhaps the greatest Revolutionary scientist of all, Antoine Lavoisier, founded modern chemistry and physiology, transformed French farming, and much improved gunpowder manufacture. His political activities brought him a fortune, but in the end led to his execution. The judge who sentenced him—and many other researchers— to death claimed that "the Revolution has no need for geniuses."
In this enthralling and dazzling book, acclaimed science writer Steve Jones shows how wrong this was and takes a new look at Paris, its history, and its science, to give the reader dazzling new insight into the City of Light.
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About the Author
Table of Contents
Preface: Confessions of a Soixante-Huitard ix
Dramatis Personae xxv
Prelude: A Flash of Inspiration 1
I The Wall of the Farmers-General 33
II Ashes to Ashes 65
III Let Them Eat Chips 97
IV Fire and Ice 129
V Einstein's Pendulum 169
VI The Empire of Anarchy 207
VII A Degree of Latitude 237
VIII President Jefferson's Moose 269
IX Handing It On 303
Envoi: After the Deluge 329