Even Einstein had to eat. We seem to forget that scientists live in the same world as the rest of us, and that their work is informed by everything they encounter day to day. Lisa Jardine explores this interconnectedness in the context of the late 17th-century scientific revolution in Ingenious Pursuits
, a well-planned journey back in time that delivers precious insight into the lives of those who laid the groundwork for cloning, nuclear weapons, and Internet commerce. Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, and Gian Domenico Cassini are just a few of the multitalented explorers that Jardine profiles through diaries, letters, and scientific records. Taking the time to fully flesh out the lives of these adventurous spirits, she shows the reader that science began as a natural curiosity about the material world, inspired by diverse interests: art, religion, medicine, engineering, and more.
Political meddling in science is nothing new; even 300 years ago rulers competed for knowledge and the status that came from scientific achievement. Jardine expands on this premise to see the colonial expansion of the time as a driving force behind research, responsible for the contemporary explosions in cartography, botany, and optics. While Ingenious Pursuits stays for the most part in the 17th century, it does remind us of our own interwoven scientific and social threads, and that perhaps the next revolutionary breakthrough will come about as much because of telemarketers as National Science Foundation grants. --Rob Lightner
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From Publishers Weekly
How do periods of great intellectual energy come about? Why are major discoveries made at certain historical moments? To answer such questions, Jardine (Worldly Goods; coauthor of Hostage to Fortune, a biography of Francis Bacon, Forecasts, Apr. 26) studies the intellectual community of late-17th-century London, beautifully evoking the excitement accompanying that period's major inventions and discoveries. Jardine traces relationships among the most famous figures of the period (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, John Locke) and links their work to a network of scientists and philosophers generated by the founding of the Royal Society in London. A portrait emerges of a community of adventurous and imaginative people interested in science for its contribution to human understanding. Jardine's central contention is that the period was characterized by so much cross-pollination between what we now call the sciences and the humanities that the distinction between the two realms we now take for granted didn't yet exist. The chapters range across a huge body of ideas, discoveries and processes, which turn out to be closely connected: mapping the elliptical orbits of comets; tracing blood circulation; importing rare and remote plants to England; founding Britain's famous museums; inventing air pumps, diving bells, spring watches. The volume's comprehensive catalogue of gizmos and brainstorms comes at the expense of historical analysis, but Jardine gives a memorable account of cultural ferment and individual genius during the scientific revolution. Illustrations. (Nov.)
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