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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon December 17, 2010
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This scholarly but very accessible history of science in the early nineteenth century centers on four young Cambridge undergraduates, William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones, who meet for breakfast on Sundays in 1812 to discuss their passion for "natural philosophy" (science) and their equally strong passion to reform how science is done. They are strong admirers of Francis Bacon, who emphasized an inductive methodology whereby data is gathered and observations made that lead to theories being developed that can then be further tested. This contrasted with the standard science methodology of the time, which was deductive and depended more on logic than observation, hence the common term "natural philosophy". The young men also want science to emphasize work that will help mankind. Such idealism has been common in young people throughout history, but these four men do not give up their dreams, and they each play important roles in a transformation of science that significantly shaped our modern world.
Like most people interested in science, I had heard of Babbage, the father of the present-day computer, and the Herschel family of astronomers. Whewell is a less familiar name, but he is revered enough to have his statue facing that of Francis Bacon at Trinity College in Cambridge, an honor that would no doubt please him immensely. I never heard of Jones, although his treatise on economics criticizing Ricardo and calling for the use of statistics was very influential.
The book discusses the lives of these men and their activism in the name of modernizing science within a broader discussion of the major developments in science in the first half of the nineteenth century. It may be astonishing to a modern reader, but in the period when they lived, little thought seemed to have been given to combining theory and experience by using individual observations to develop general formulae or predictions, even in practical matters such as timing of tides. The chapter on forming the British Association for the Advancement of Science in reaction to the Royal Society is a fascinating glimpse of academic and professional politics of the nineteenth century. Some things never change! A chapter is devoted to the ever-ongoing disputes about the relation of science to religion, which caused quite a rift between Babbage and Whewell. There are also sections on specific scientific fields, such as Babbage's quest to build the first computer and the work of various members of the group on astronomy, tides, the mapping of the earth, the development of photography, and even cryptology. Babbage's project has interest far beyond its visionary anticipation of today's computers. Babbage saw his Difference Engine as an analogy to the way God might interact with the world, and Darwin attended a demonstration of the Engine soon after finishing his voyage on the Beagle that introduced him to the notion of God as a divine programmer. There is some entertaining discussion of the astronomical work of the time, such as the discovery of Neptune, and I especially enjoyed the chapter on economics and was amused by their belief that economics would be a good subject to address as their first major example of how Baconian induction could be applied to science. This first attempt to put economics into a mathematical form proved to be somewhat more difficult than anticipated!
Like many of the best books of its type, The Philosophical Breakfast Club is a mixture of broad themes, such as the reform of science that the quartet so passionately pursued, and fascinating smaller details, such as the fact that Whewell originated the term "scientist" (after the poet Coleridge objected to continued use of the term "natural philosopher"), as well as the terms "uniformitarianism" for Lyell's geological theory," Eocene", "Miocene", and "Pliocene" for historical epochs, and "ion", "cathode", and "anode". Some of the vignettes are quite humorous, such as a description of Lord Byron's pet bear.
I acknowledge the validity of the observation by several reviewers that there are some distracting digressions, but they were interesting, so I did not consider them a flaw.
If you are interested in history, science, or how scientific methodology developed, The Philosophical Breakfast Club is well worth your time.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Laura J. Snyder's "The Philosophical Breakfast Club" focuses on the work of four remarkable men who changed the course of history. They were William Whewell, John Herschel, Richard Jones, and Charles Babbage. Before they became widely known, these individuals were friends who, while having breakfast together on Sundays at Cambridge, discussed ways of elevating and modernizing scientific inquiry. They were admirers of the seventeenth century reformer, Francis Bacon, who asserted that keen observation, rational thinking, and precise measurements would lead to significant and practical discoveries. Whewell, Herschel, Jones, and Babbage were destined to gain fame as brilliant innovators in such fields as astronomy, mathematics, economics, botany, and chemistry.

Babbage is best remembered for his ingenious invention that is considered to be an early version of our modern computers. Herschel, like his renowned father, William, was an astronomer who swept the skies with his powerful telescope. Jones focused on political economy, a controversial discipline in the nineteenth century. Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, and David Ricardo had promulgated various theories and Jones took issue with a number of their conclusions. Whewell was a mathematician and an academic who wrote quite a few influential works.

Snyder's impressive research and fascinating anecdotes bring the atmosphere of this amazing era to brilliant life. She points out that "natural philosophers" used to rely on little more than personal observation and guesswork. Whewell coined a new term, "scientist," to designate an individual who combines intellect and verifiable facts to reach conclusions that can be replicated and verified by others. The author humanizes her subjects by describing their triumphs and accomplishments as well as their failures and tragic losses. They had their share of pettiness and neuroses, but they could also be generous, loyal, and altruistic. It is eye-opening to learn how much these four men managed to accomplish throughout their lives.

In addition to her depiction of Whewell, Herschel, Babbage, Jones, and their colleagues, Snyder provides a valuable picture of the political and social climate of England from the 1820's until the 1870's. For the most part, women stood on the sidelines, not for lack of ability but for lack of opportunity. Snyder provides useful background information about how the Industrial Revolution brought about a demographic shift from farms to cities. Unemployment and poor living conditions led to labor unrest and even outbreaks of violence. One controversy that raged (it still does today) is whether the benefits of technological innovations outweigh their disadvantages.

This is a challenging and occasionally dense book in which Snyder goes into the minutiae of complex mathematical and astronomical concepts. Those who are not well-versed in these areas may not understand all of Ms. Snyder's explanations. However, readers who can tolerate the occasionally abstruse technical writing will be richly rewarded. This is a well-documented and thought-provoking work of non-fiction that shows the many ways in which today's men and women of science stand on the shoulders of giants.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
William Whewell's destiny changed between noon and 2 p.m. in in late 1808 or early 1809. The headmaster and parish curate knew William was destined for academic greatness and it was on lunch hour that he spoke to William's father. William's father was reluctant to give up his apprenticing son in the family business of carpentry, to study math and science. In the end, however, the offer was to good to pass up; William would be given a scholarship and then further help would come from all of the town.

All of Lancaster would contribute as they could to their rising star, William Whewell. Amongst the very well off students, William stood out: "a tall, ungainly youth, with grey worsted stockings and country-made shoes."

This book is the very meticulously researched story of four men who together brought about the scientific method of advancing science. William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel and Richard Jones. Each of these men is fascinating, brilliant and accomplished (not to mention good looking- Whewell found, to his surprise, he was something of a ladies' man) John Hercshel, only son of the famous astronomer, initially fought the idea of following in his father's footsteps.

Prior to their breakfast club there was in 1812, the Analytical Society attended by Babbage, Herschel, Whewell and many others. They met weekly to discuss mathematical papers.

Clubs, during this period in British history, were commonplace. There were reading clubs, country clubs, coffee-drinking clubs, dining clubs, cardplaying clubs... In fact, there were reported to be as many as twenty thousand men meeting in various clubs in London alone during the mid-eighteenth century. So the Philosophical Breakfast club was not unique for being a club. This Philosophical Breakfast Club was in one regard, just one more club. The astounding thing was it was made up of four amazing men, men who did not look at their lives as something to overcome but simply loved science, loved learning and could not be stopped.

The Breakfast Club met to eat (obviously breakfast), gossip, laugh and drink, ("more ale than coffee was drunk"). They met on Sunday mornings right after chapel. Breakfast clubs came to be all the rage and professors disliked them for their apparent frittering away of the day in what they considered idle discussion.

This is a book to be savored, the research that the author, Laura Snyder, has done is extensive and the details add such a depth to the time period and to the character of these men.

This book is thoroughly fascinating if you are a lover of science.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 10, 2011
The period of the 1820's through the 1870's was a dynamic one in the history of 19th century British science. This book focuses upon four extraordinary individuals who did much to shape science and the scientific method during this crucial era: Charles Babbage (1791-1871); John Herschel (1792-1871); William Whewell (1794-1866); and Richard Jones (1790-1855). Coming together as young students at Cambridge University, in a series of breakfast meetings and discussions (hence the book's title), the group was determined to reform how science was conducted and the role of scientists--and to a great extent they succeeded as the book recounts, among other things setting the stage so to speak for the monumental impact of Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species" in 1859.

Each of the four central subjects is profiled throughout the book as they undertake their scientific careers. Their common emphasis was on a scientific method that was empirical, quantitative, and inductive, that resulted in practical benefits for society, while not being constrained by religion. Jones is the most unfamiliar, but he applied these techniques to the study of economics with lasting impact. The others were involved in astronomy, chemistry, physics, and about everything else scientific as perhaps the last great generalists who could cover a number of different dimensions simultaneously. Much of their impact came from their involvement in scientific organizations, like the British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1831) which (as was typical during this period) brought interested individuals together for reading papers, conducting demonstrations, and publishing findings.

The author well integrates a discussion of how this new view of science impacted on religious thinking in the period before Darwin's bombshell "Origin." This is a familiar area for the author, since she has written "Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society," and she handles it quite well. Was god like a mechanic, or a "divine programmer," who set up the universe to operate in accordance with universal physical laws, and left it to do so, or did he frequently intervene in the world to, for example, create new species? The group may not have agreed wholly on this issue, but they did agree emphatically that science and religion were compatible. It is interesting speculate on whether Darwin's interactions with Babbage got him thinking about the possibility of evolution.

I found Babbage to be particularly interesting. In effect, he created a mechanical computing machine that, had it been built, would have duplicated many of the facets of modern digital computers. Had this machine been built and utilized in the 1830's, imagine the impact it would have had. Among other things, members of the group developed photography, charted the world's currents, studied the earth's magnetic fields, charted the universe, translated Plato, worked on ciphers, and on and on. Truly an amazing and gifted group!

By the time of their deaths, science and "scientist" were recognized terms; an empirical and quantitative scientific method prevailed; the government was beginning to financially support science and it had achieved somewhat of an accepted role in the universities; international cooperation was developing; multiple scientific organizations were functioning; and London's "Great Exhibition of the Industry of All Nations" in 1851 demonstrated how science impacted on everyday life and activities. The modern world was just around the corner.

Though a long book at around 400 pages, the author's narrative never bores nor does it overwhelm those such as myself who lack a heavy scientific background. The author's 39 pages of useful notes and 16 page bibliography attest to the substantial research upon which the book is based. She knows this period well and the important issues that need to be discussed. 19th century British science is a treasure trove for those of us interested in intellectual history, as these four remarkable individuals attest. The author has unlocked the door to many of these key issues in this fine volume.
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on April 23, 2013
The author presents a grand overview, and interlink, with learned conjecture of the best ilk, of the lives of four great men of science.

This book follows the unbelievably intertwined lives, for almost sixty years, of a number of the brightest and best pursuers of knowledge in the United Kingdom, and, perhaps, most of the world. Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell and Richard Jones were drawn together while attending college. They were, typically for their era, somewhat a group of young college "hell-raisers." That would be, excluding, the fact that these four students and scientists, and their friends and associates, had among them about half of the brain power of the entire planet, at the time.

Among them, they developed the first computer, and the first "software", mapped the stars of the southern hemisphere, created the very word "scientist", created a new and towering method of conducting science and helped invert modern photography. A stunning array of other innovations dropped around the world almost as casual afterthought to their primary concerns.

The only thing that was bothersome was that their enemies, real or imagined, had most of the other half.

The list of their goals and achievements, their contribution to science (including coining the word "scientist"), their struggles, their failures, their private and public lives makes a fascinating "read."

Laura Snyder, the author, is a Fulbright scholar, past president of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science, and, associate professor of philosophy at St. John's University She has woven a marvelous narrative that reads, very technically, but, yet, like an adventure story.

We follow the main protagonists and the people that they encounter on their journey, from Davies Gilbert to Ada Lovelace. From Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Benjamin Disaeli to Fakers and the Queen (Victoria). And a stunning cast of hundreds of the great minds of many centuries.

I enjoyed this ride (or read) and I heartily recommend this book to all with an interest in science and/or the history of the Victorian Era in Great Britain. Immersion in this work is near the same as actually being present in the time and space described.

I could only wish that someone of this author's stature would write a book about Paris and La Belle Epoque!

The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World
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"They were," Snyder tells us "widely and classically trained, readers of Latin and Greek, French and German... who wrote poetry and broke codes and translated Plato and studied architecture." Their names were William Whewell, Charles Babbage, William Herschel, and Richard Jones. Together these four Cambridge students, perhaps more than anyone, revolutionized what science was. Before them, it was natural philosophy to be engaged in as a hobby; after them it became a specialized profession that received loads of state funding. Indeed, the very term "scientist" we owe to Whewell, this remarkable carpenter's son who studied tides around the world and was one of the founders of the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

But all four friends became well-known scientists. Jones, the mathematician, founded what we call economics; Babbage launched "artificial intelligence"; and Herschel mapped the heavens of the southern hemisphere. If they had done nothing else, these achievements alone would have been worth several books. But of course they did do more.

From 1812 to 1813, these four friends met regularly to discuss the nature and the object of scientific inquiry. They wanted to know what science (or natural philosophy as it was then called) ought to be. Their conclusions were nothing short of revolutionary and created the science--and the global scientific community--we have today.

Snyder tells the story of that rebellion--and follows the men's lives and their careers--in these pages almost like a novelist. And while her theme-based organization makes a bit of a muddle of the timeline, this well-written book should interest anyone interested in the history of science.

I recommend it.
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on July 3, 2012
In The Philosophical Breakfast Club, Laura J. Snyder has written a brilliant book. Pure and simple. It is the story of the birth of "the scientist," both the term itself, and the concept of a professional person dedicated to the scientific study of a particular subject. Prior to the mid to late nineteenth century, young men were educated in the sciences, math, philosophy, history, literature, art, poetry, languages--basically everything. Many went on to professions in one area or another, or, if they didn't have to work for a living, many more spent their lives as productive amateurs in fields that interested them.

The four remarkable friends Snyder writes about are William Whewell, John Herschel, Charles Babbage, and Richard Jones. Whewell (say "who-ell") is the actual coiner of the term "scientist." He did it by mashing together science with artist. (The term didn't catch on for several decades after he introduced it at a meeting held in 1833--"man of science," "savant," and "natural philosopher" were more commonly used at the time.) John Herschel was the son of William Herschel, who discovered the planet, Uranus, and the younger Herschel made many of his own contributions to astronomy, as well as helping to invent photography. Babbage designed the first computer, and Jones elevated the new field of "political economics" to a rigorous scientific specialty (now known simply as economics).

It would have been difficult to write about any one of these men without including extensive information about the other three, they were so well connected to each other throughout their adult lives. Snyder took the approach of following each man through certain periods in their lives and then overlapping the stories as they interacted with each other. There was considerable overlap during their years at Cambridge and for a time afterwards, before they married and developed family obligations. They spurred each other on in their separate endeavors and collaborated on establishing The British Association for the Advancement of Science (now known as The British Science Association), the third meeting of which was where Whewell introduced the term scientist.

The numerous accomplishments and contributions of the four men would be too many to list in a brief review of the book. Suffice to say that our world would bear no resemblance at all to what we are used to if they had not been so broadly engaged in the applications of science, as well as its study. From predicting changing tides on a world-wide scale, to decrypting coded messages during wartime, to charting the stars of the Southern Hemisphere, these four friends created a lasting legacy that continues to enrich our lives today. And they set the stage for someone else whose impact on science has only increased with the passage of time.

For years Charles Babbage had hosted parties that attracted between two and three hundred men and women from "levels of society usually socially segregated," according to Snyder. "Female members of the titled aristocracy played whist with the wives of experimenters and fossil hunters, while on the dance floor, the attractive young daughters of noblemen whirled with the unmarried scientists." He usually included in the entertainment a demonstration of his "Difference Engine," the computing machine he had designed and built on a small scale, but was never able to complete in a larger size.

As he described the workings of his machine to his audience, Babbage would compare the laws he built into the mechanism to govern its actions to the laws God imposed on the rest of creation--laws that released God from having to take a hand in every act of nature. This portrait of God was unconventional even within the Philosophical Breakfast Club. Whewell and Jones were both ordained ministers in the Church of England, and devout practitioners of that faith. But Babbage's view would soon come to dominate the scientific world. "And," according to Snyder, "he very likely planted a seed in the mind of one of his audience members, Charles Darwin, who at that moment was trying to reconcile his belief in God with his growing suspicion that species were not 'fixed,' that they in fact changed over time into new species."

This book was no light reading. I often had to take a break from it, even as interested as I was in the topic. But the pay-off came in Chapter 12, where Snyder expands on the subject of Charles Darwin and his efforts "to decipher the 'mystery of mysteries,' as Herschel had called it, the origin of new species." Snyder cites numerous ways that the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club influenced Darwin. For instance, "He would design his book explicitly to meet the conditions for good inductive science that the experts of the day, Whewell and Herschel, had set out in their works...," and "Darwin respected the breadth and depth of Whewell's knowledge, calling him one of the 'best conversers on grave subjects to whom I have ever listened.'"

After reading the detailed description of how Darwin assembled the arguments that became his Origin of Species, it was easy for me to frame the rest of the book as background for that one group of pages. Which may have been Snyder's intent. Or not. I can see how this might have gone from a project writing a biography of William Whewell, or a brief summary of how the changing scene of scientific endeavor affected how Darwin carried out his research, to what undoubtedly turned into a massive undertaking. I applaud Snyder for getting all that information under control and setting it down in a highly engaging story.

by Judy King
for Story Circle Book Reviews
reviewing books by, for, and about women
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VINE VOICEon March 22, 2012
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
In The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World, Dr. Laura Snyder does an excellent job of describing and contrasting the 19th century man of science with the modern scientist, those whose scientific method was so drastically changed by the meeting of the minds of John Herschel, Richard Jones, Charles Babbage and William Whewell, over breakfast at Cambridge.

In the early 19th century, a natural philosopher (Whewell later coined the word scientist) was usually a wealthy man who used his inheritance to pursue his scientific interest without backing of government, university, corporation or colleagues. There was no set logical method to his explorations, and no results shared other than occasionally with other like-minded individuals. Our modern scientist by contrast is a credentialed specialist normally sponsored in his endeavors, and whose results are passed along for the betterment of the world. His method and analysis of his results is standardized within his field of endeavor.

Snyder's book claims that what the four Cambridge friends did was establish scientific method by which all future scientific discovery would be held to account. She does an admirable job of defending the claim that it was the "Cambridge Four" who, by first forming their own small group of intellectuals, then extending their ideas into mainstream acceptance, literally changed the world.

The Philosophical Breakfast Club is an interesting exploration of the life and times of all four of the individuals from that Cambridge friendship, with special emphasis on that of William Whewell, a true Renaissance man, whose interests were wide and deep in the scientific world.

After reading the book PBC, I couldn't help but wonder what the world would be like today if these four young men had not been destined to meet as they did. Different, certainly, but in unimaginable ways. A though-provoking work, excellently researched, written and defended.
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on September 1, 2011
Snyder uses four 19th century scientists to discuss major discoveries, historical events and important changes in England (and the world). This diverse perspective (the scientists include Jones, the vicar and economist, so we can a look at what a clergyman's life was like and how that changed and how the economic picture of England was evolving; Babbage, the first computer maker, so we see the progress of mechanical sciences; Herschel, an astronomer so we see how the mapping of the stars and understanding of the cosmos moved forward; and Whewell who was interested in mapping the tides and water across the world and became the Head of Cambridge) is both a strength and a weakness. While it is diverse, it is also limiting and the need to write a book about these four sometimes leads to some long, detailed and ultimately unnecessary passages (we don't have to know the beauty of the school in which Jones taught). These guys represent the turn within England towards a more scientific ordered collection of data and dissemination of knowledge, one that relied more on induction than deduction.

Snyder also explores their personalities, and they are all really different so we get to know Jones' depression and severe obesity; Babbages pride and easily offended nature; Herschels more quiet and contemplative approach; and Whewell's enthusiasm and rags to riches story. Babbages and Whewell I found very unappealing and am curious (and a bit stumped) why she chose these four to look at. I can see why Herschel figure prominently, the guy was really active in the sciences. But, Babbages is an arrogant jerk, really. Whewell seems rather ignorant, believing in the supernatural and arguing so vehemently for induction. Jones seems very misplaced from the perspective of he did little. What's most interesting about this book is more the science happening around these guys (but I don't see why the guys are that important?). Neither Whewell or Herschel supported Darwin's theory of evolution, although Whewell was at least willing to believe it possible.

One of the big debates of this era was the notion of natural theology and to what extent does science support and confirm the work of God and to what extent is it atheistic, as well as being somewhere in between. Whewell believed that god and nature go together and support one another, but that God does create miracles that intervenes with natural laws like creating new species. Babbage and Herschel in contrast believed that new species arose from old species and not through God's intervention. Although, all three tried to support the notion that science was not against God.

Other important discoveries with which one or more of these four had influence include the development of photography, the exploration of the antarctic, the understanding of the earth's magnetic pole, the rise of cryptology, and Darwin's Origin of the Species. Snyder traces each of these developments and the interaction of one of her breakfast club members in it. It's a good history of what was happening in England in the sciences at this point in time.

Some of the issues that stand out and seem relevant still today include Herschel's concern that science/information be free and used to benefit the public (he did not patent his inventions because of this belief); attempts to fit God and nature together; the public role in science--should government fund science projects and to what extent?

What seems most important about these four is their push for recognition, respect and support for a rigorous science (but one that accepted God's law as well). Strengths of the book: history of science in the 19th century in England, a really prolific time. Weaknesses: too long and a bit forced to make these four stand out.
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The modern world can truly be said to have begun in the last years of the 18th Century. The American Revolution (and to a lesser extent, the French) signaled the end of the rule of monarchs, and the beginning of modern popular democratic rule. The authority of the Church in matters scientific was waning, and the ideas of the Scottish Enlightenment were transforming British society. Coal replaced wood as a primary fuel, and steam power transformed the workplace, increasing productivity, and helping to create a new middle class that could educate their children at universities, just as the wealthy had in the past. And at the universities, a new mode of inquiry was starting to emerge, based not on induction from ecclesiastical teachings and the authority of the Bible, but from observation of the world. The study of Natural Philosophy (the word science had yet to be coined) was in its ascendancy.

It was into this world that the four men profiled in this book were born. Two- Babbage and Herschel- were born into wealth. The others were of somewhat less means. Richard Jones was the son of a solicitor, a respectable trade, and Whewell the son of a carpenter. Despite the clear differences in class and age, the four became close friends while students at Cambridge, and formed among themselves the "Philosophical Breakfast Club" in order to discuss, and propose solutions to, major questions of nature, society, and philosophy. Taking Francis Bacon's Novum Organum as an outline for their methodology, they set about addressing all the important questions of the day. In this, they were like any number of undergraduate societies, filled with self assurance and confidence. Unlike most, these were four exceptionally brilliant minds who continued to correspond and meet throughout their lives, and who made major contributions to an astoundingly wide range of subjects.

Babbage is probably the best known of the four, owing to his place in the history of automated computing. His difference engine and analytical engine were works of astounding creativity, far beyond what any of his contemporaries had conceived. But he was also a mathematician who did the first mathematical analysis of cryptography, and an inventor who devised the railroad cow-catcher. John Herschel was the son of the great astronomer William Herschel, and continued much of his father's work in the cataloging of nebula and invented a device for measuring the temperature of the sun. But he was also a polymath who wrote on geography, geology, and meteorology, and was one of the principle inventors of photography, and coined the terms "positive" and "negative" as they are used in that field.

Whewell, too, was very much a polymath, who wrote the first systematic histories of the evolution of science (a word he coined), books on architecture, philosophy, and morality, and still managed to make significant contributions to mathematics. He even influenced Darwin, who quoted Whewell's "Bridgewater Tretise" in order to put his (Darwin's) ideas into the proper theological context. Jones was, it might be argued, the first modern economist. He came up with the first mathematically based criticisms of the ideas of Ricardo and Malthus, and was a founder of the Royal Statistical Society. His work was instrumental in bringing mathematical rigor to subjects that had previously been largely qualitative in nature.

All four were highly influential in the works of the others, supporting, encouraging, debating, and at times cajoling each other to further develop or publish their ideas. Babbage published works in political economy that challenged the ideas of Ricardo, just as had Jones. Whewell, early in his career, speculated that other stars besides the Sun might well "have planets revolving about them, and these may, like our planet, be the seats of vegetable and animal and rational life." All four continued to participate, on and off, in the affairs of their University, and Babbage was eventually appointed to the Lucasian professorship once held by Newton.

The stories of each of these great men has been told in some detail by others in the past. What has not been as well known is how each of them continued to be an important influence on each other's work, as well the important role each played in the overall development of scientific and social beliefs in their era. Author Snyder has done a simply magnificent job of putting these sages in their proper historical context, all the while telling a fascinating story.
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