Synopses & Reviews
In the early 1600s, in a haunting tale titled New Atlantis, Sir Francis Bacon imagined the discovery of an uncharted island. This island was home to the descendants of the lost realm of Atlantis, who had organized themselves to seek andldquo;the knowledge of Causes, and secret motions of things; and the enlarging of the bounds of Human Empire, to the effecting of all things possible.andrdquo; Baconandrsquo;s make-believe island was not an empire in the usual sense, marked by territorial control; instead, it was the center of a vast general expansion of human knowledge and power. and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;Rosalind Williams uses Baconandrsquo;s island as a jumping-off point to explore the overarching historical event of our time: the rise and triumph of human empire, the apotheosis of the modern ambition to increase knowledge and power in order to achieve world domination. Confronting an intensely humanized world was a singular event of consciousness, which Williams explores through the lives and works of three writers of the late nineteenth century: Jules Verne, William Morris, and Robert Louis Stevenson. As the century drew to a close, these writers were unhappy with the direction in which their world seemed to be headed and worried that organized humanity would use knowledge and power for unworthy ends. In response, Williams shows, each engaged in a lifelong quest to make a home in the midst of human empire, to transcend it, and most of all to understand it. They accomplished this first by taking to the water: in life and in art, the transition from land to water offered them release from the condition of human domination. At the same time, each writer transformed his world by exploring the literary boundary between realism and romance. Williams shows how Verne, Morris, and Stevenson experimented with romance and fantasy and how these traditions allowed them to express their growing awareness of the need for a new relationship between humans and Earth.and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;and#160;The Triumph of Human Empire shows that for these writers and their readers romance was an exceptionally powerful way of grappling with the political, technical, and environmental situations of modernity. As environmental consciousness rises in our time, along with evidence that our seeming control over nature is pathological and unpredictable, Williamsandrsquo;s history is one that speaks very much to the present.
"A Victorian science expert at St. John's University, Snyder offers a four-in-one biography of 19th-century scientists William Whewell, a polymath whose expertise ranged from geology to moral philosophy; Charles Babbage, credited with inventing the first computer; John Herschel, a noted astronomer and mathematician; and Richard Jones, who created the academic discipline of economics. In 1812, when academic science was still a backward field, the four Cambridge students founded the Philosophical Breakfast Club, devoted to scientific discussion. Snyder provides insights into their personal lives, their myriad professional accomplishments, and their influence on science and economics. She underscores the importance of their accomplishments by placing them into modern context, for example, pointing out that Jones's empirically based economics, which placed economics in a larger social and political context, is in vogue again. Snyder also describes Whewell's important integration of religion and Darwinism. Each of the four figures is a worthy subject in his own right, and by combining their stories Snyder provides the right balance of biography and science. It also allows Snyder to discuss a wide range of scientific developments that are sufficiently modern to appeal to today's readers. (Jan.)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
and#8220;A magnificent attempt to recapture the sense, so prevalent at the end of the 19th century, that the world was finished, explored and done. The responses of the three creative men on whom Rosalind Williams focuses have strong resonances for anyone who worries about todayand#8217;s Anthropocene era.and#8221;
and#8220;One of the most fascinating books Iand#8217;ve read this year, deftly drawing together the themes of utopian ambition, technological change, and a visionary sense of escape.and#8221;
and#8220;Captivating and unsettling. . . . [This] is a book that manages to be densely researched, accessible, and disarmingly polemical. Williamsand#8217;s triplet of complex and neglected figures, writing and#8216;through the rolling apocalypse of their time, at once deciphering and prophesying it,and#8217; reminds us that and#8216;we are not the first to live in this historical conditionand#8217; of intense ecological concern, and encourages us to think seriously about our modern-day duties. Theand#160;Triumph of Human Empire will be a thought-provoking book for anyone concerned with the imagination of the and#8216;Anthropoceneand#8217; and how it was formed.and#8221;
and#8220;Williamsand#8217;s perceptive readings, fluent writing, immense erudition, and engaging voice make her book an irresistible, endlessly instructive pleasure.and#8221;
and#8220;Millions of people had their ideas about technology, nature, and the human condition influenced by these men. If Ms. Williams introduces one more reader to the remarkable worlds of Morrisand#8217;s News from Nowhere, or Verneand#8217;s Invasion of the Sea, that is justification enough for her insightful book.and#8221;
and#8220;Prodigious in scope. . . . Those interested in the cross-disciplinary potential of the history of science and technology will find this book of interest. Recommended.and#8221;
"An engaging book that will interest scholars of nineteenth-century technology and the environment, as well as those concerned with science's influence on literature."
and#8220;[A] well-researched and valuable book.and#8221;
and#8220;Engaging, highly informative, and entertaining, The Triumph of Human Empire
addresses issues of crucial current importanceand#8212;the impact of humans on the environment; the dangerous pace of late modernity; the political and psychological consequences of globalization, high-speed communications, and industrial capitalismand#8212;through lively and colorful biographies of important literary figures, presented here from a novel perspective. Rosalind Williams follows the advice of the authors she discussesand#8212;of finding the right balance between factual detail, narrative drive, and human interestand#8212;yet presents a strikingly original and timely synthesis of literary history, history of technology, and environmental history.and#8221;
and#8220;As in her previous work, Rosalind Williams uses literature to explore the monumental shifts in human understanding of our place in natureand#8212;in this case, the realization in the late nineteenth century that human beings had physically occupied the planet and would now be re-engineering it according to their own thoughts and desires. Her writing is deeply thoughtful, particular, and well researched, and it is relevant for the troubling scientific and technological challenges of today.and#8221;
The Philosophical Breakfast Club
recounts the life and work of four men who met as students at Cambridge University: Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones. Recognizing that they shared a love of science (as well as good food and drink) they began to meet on Sunday mornings to talk about the state of science in Britain and the world at large. Inspired by the great 17th century scientific reformer and political figure Francis Bacon—another former student of Cambridge—the Philosophical Breakfast Club plotted to bring about a new scientific revolution. And to a remarkable extent, they succeeded, even in ways they never intended.
Historian of science and philosopher Laura J. Snyder exposes the political passions, religious impulses, friendships, rivalries, and love of knowledge—and power—that drove these extraordinary men. Whewell (who not only invented the word “scientist,” but also founded the fields of crystallography, mathematical economics, and the science of tides), Babbage (a mathematical genius who invented the modern computer), Herschel (who mapped the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and contributed to the invention of photography), and Jones (a curate who shaped the science of economics) were at the vanguard of the modernization of science.
This absorbing narrative of people, science and ideas chronicles the intellectual revolution inaugurated by these men, one that continues to mold our understanding of the world around us and of our place within it. Drawing upon the voluminous correspondence between the four men over the fifty years of their work, Laura J. Snyder shows how friendship worked to spur the men on to greater accomplishments, and how it enabled them to transform science and help create the modern world.
About the Author
An expert on Victorian science and culture, Fulbright scholar Laura J. Snyder just completed a term as president of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science. She is associate professor of philosophy at St. John's University and the author of Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society.
Table of Contents
Preface: An Event of Consciousness
1: The Rise of Human Empire
2. Life on the Loire
3. The Empire of Paris
4. Inventing the Geographic Romance
5. The End of the World
6. Life on the Thames
7. Pilgrimage to a Holy Land
8. A River of Fire
9. From Romance to Fantasy
Robert Louis Stevenson
10. Romantic Engineering and Engineering Romance
11. Two Voyages: Inland Waterways and High Seas
12. Worlds of Wonder and Problematic Shores
13. The Romance of Destiny
14. A Rolling Apocalypse