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The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the Birth of the Modern Worldby Edward Dolnick
Synopses & Reviews
The Clockwork Universe is the story of a band of menwho lived in a world of dirt and disease but pictured auniverse that ran like a perfect machine. A meld ofhistory and science, this book is a group portrait ofsome of the greatest minds who ever lived as theywrestled with natures most sweeping mysteries. Theanswers they uncovered still hold the key to how weunderstand the world.
At the end of the seventeenth century—an age ofreligious wars, plague, and the Great Fire of London—when most people saw the world as falling apart, theseearliest scientists saw a world of perfect order. They declaredthat, chaotic as it looked, the universe was in factas intricate and perfectly regulated as a clock. This wasthe tail end of Shakespeares century, when the naturaland the supernatural still twined around each other. Diseasewas a punishment ordained by God, astronomy hadnot yet broken free from astrology, and the sky was filledwith omens. It was a time when little was known andeverything was new. These brilliant, ambitious, curiousmen believed in angels, alchemy, and the devil, and theyalso believed that the universe followed precise, mathematicallaws—a contradiction that tormented them andchanged the course of history.
The Clockwork Universe is the fascinating and compellingstory of the bewildered geniuses of the RoyalSociety, the men who made the modern world.
"Bestselling author Dolnick (The Rescue Artist) focuses on the 17th century and the giants of early science — Galileo, Kepler, Descartes, and particularly Newton and Leibniz, whose independent invention of calculus made it possible to describe the moving, changing world and opened up a literal universe of possibilities. Dolnick writes clearly and unpretentiously about science, and writes equally well about the tumultuous historical context for these men's groundbreaking discoveries: the English Civil War, the Thirty Years' War, and in 1665 and 1666 respectively, the Black Plague and the Great Fire of London. Dolnick also offers penetrating portraits of the geniuses of the day, many of them idiosyncratic in the extreme, who offer fertile ground for entertaining writing. (Newton's feuds with Leibniz and Robert Hooke, another scientific titan of the day, are almost as famous as his discoveries.) While Dolnick uncovers nothing new, he has an eye for vivid details in aid of historical recreation, and an affection for his subjects, which all translate into a light but informative read coming suitably on the heels of the Royal Society's 350th anniversary. 8 pages of color photos. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
William Hyde Wollaston was born into a large, religious, and scientifically informed family in 1766 and died sixty-two years later as one of the Western worldand#8217;s most highly regarded scientists. With encouragement from his well-connected father, he studied medicine at Cambridge, and began practicing as a physician in the provinces before moving his practice to London in 1797, arriving in the capital about the same time as his illustrious colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young. After a few years in London, Wollaston abandoned the vocation he had come to dislike and bravely set out to make his living as a chemical entrepreneur, while pursuing his intellectual interests in a wide range of contemporary scientific subjects. He, Davy, and Young were to become Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first third of the nineteenth century, and their deaths within a six month time span were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British supremacy in science. In contrast to his two more famous colleagues, Wollastonand#8217;s life was not recorded for posterity in a contemporary biography, and his many remarkable scientific, commercial, instrumental, and institutional achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result. This biography is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived.
William Hyde Wollaston made an astonishing number of discoveries in an astonishingly varied number of fields: platinum metallurgy, the existence of ultraviolet radiation, the chemical elements palladium and rhodium, the amino acid cystine, and the physiology of binocular vision, among others. Along with his colleagues Humphry Davy and Thomas Young, he was widely recognized during his life as one of Britainand#8217;s leading scientific practitioners in the first part of the nineteenth century, and theand#160; deaths of all three within a six-month span, between 1828 and 1829, were seen by many as the end of a glorious period of British scientific supremacy. Unlike Davy and Young, however, Wollaston was not the subject of a contemporary biography, and his many impressive achievements have fallen into obscurity as a result.
Pure Intelligence is the first book-length study of Wollaston, his science, and the environment in which he thrived. Drawing on previously-unstudied laboratory records as well as historical reconstructions of chemical experiments and discoveries, and written in a highly accessible style, Pure Intelligence will help to reinstate Wollaston in the history of science, and the pantheon of its great innovators.
New York Times bestselling author Edward Dolnick brings to light the true story of one of the most pivotal moments in modern intellectual history—when a group of strange, tormented geniuses invented science as we know it, and remade our understanding of the world. Dolnicks earth-changing story of Isaac Newton, the Royal Society, and the birth of modern science is at once an entertaining romp through the annals of academic history, in the vein of Bill Brysons A Short History of Nearly Everything, and a captivating exploration of a defining time for scientific progress, in the tradition of Richard Holmes The Age of Wonder.
About the Author
Edward Dolnick is the author of Down the Great Unknown, The Forgers Spell, and the Edgar Award-winning The Rescue Artist. A former chief science writer at the Boston Globe, he lives with his wife near Washington, D.C.
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