History hasn't been particularly kind to Robert Hooke. Inescapably linked to Sir Isaac Newton, with whom he famously feuded, Hooke was also a notable associate of surveyor Sir Christopher Wren and Robert Boyle, the father of modern chemistry. Gifted in everything from architecture to anatomical dissection, he perhaps spread his knowledge too thin to have had a towering impact on any one field. His versatility combined with an impolitic personality damaged Hooke's standing in his lifetime and, author Lisa Jardine convincingly contends, in the centuries since his death. Jardine, the author of On a Grander Scale: The Outstanding Life and Tumultuous Times of Christopher Wren
, once again delves deep into the 17th century to resurrect the reputation of "a founding figure in the European scientific revolution." A London-based professor of renaissance studies, Jardine brings great enthusiasm to her task, even embarking on some detective work to discover what she convincingly contends is a long-lost painting of Hooke, whose appearance had heretofore been limited to unflattering descriptions by his contemporaries. As readable as it is thoroughly researched, The Curious Life of Robert Hooke
will stand for some time as the definitive account of one of history's great dabblers. --Steven Stolder
--This text refers to the
From Publishers Weekly
English scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703) is known to history more for losing quarrels with better-known scientists than for his achievements. He dared challenge Newton for credit as discoverer of the inverse-square law of gravitational attraction and lost. In his dispute with Dutch scientist Christaan Huygens over who invented the isochronous pendulum clock, Hooke fared slightly better, since it was discovered that unfriendly members of the fledging Royal Society were slipping word of his discoveries to Huygens. Cambridge Renaissance scholar Jardine follows up her 2002 biography of Christopher Wren with this satisfying rehabilitation of Hooke, Wren's colleague in rebuilding London after the devastating fire of 1666. Jardine argues that Hooke played an equal role in many of the projects attributed to Wren, most notably the dome of Saint Paul's and the Monument to the Fire of London. Hooke never made the leap into greatness by adequately working out and proving his "hunches," in large part because of other scientists' demands on his time. As a young man, he was Robert Boyle's trusted assistant. At the Royal Society, which he helped found, he served as curator of experiments and secretary. After the fire he was forced to juggle society members' increasingly unreasonable demands with his work as surveyor and associate to Wren. Hooke grew ill-tempered in his later years and was finally removed from his Royal Society posts. Jardine convincingly attributes his physical deterioration to decades of self-medicating and overwork. Sure to become the standard life of Hooke, Jardine's sympathetic study will please readers interested in the early years of modern science and scientific biographies. Illus.
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