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The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution Paperback – October 28, 2008

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The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution + The Book of Life: A Novel (All Souls Trilogy) + Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, Bk 2)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press (October 28, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300143168
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300143164
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #64,664 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"'This is the book on Elizabethan science everyone should read. Not only does it offer a convincing reinterpretation of the role of science in society, but it is written in an arresting style, jaunty, full of illuminating anecdotes, and widely accessible.' Ian Archer, Oxford University '... a significant contribution to the history of science, but also to that of London, and an exciting portrait of life in the swarming, spreading city during the reign of the first Elizabeth.' Ronald Hutton, Independent on Sunday"

About the Author

Deborah E. Harkness is professor of history, University of Southern California. She is the author of John Dee’s Conversations with Angels: Cabala, Alchemy, and the End of Nature and of the New York Times bestseller A Discovery of Witches.

More About the Author

Deborah Harkness is a professor of history at the University of Southern California. She has received Fullbright, Guggenheim, and National Humanities Center fellowships, and her most recent scholarly work is The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution. She also writes an award-winning wine blog.

Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

82 of 84 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on January 28, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Everyone knows that the Scientific Revolution involved some great minds, like Edmond Halley and Sir Isaac Newton, and that it happened in the seventeenth century, and that one of its centers was London. But it was not the case that before the revolution people were unscientific and after it they were scientific. What was the infrastructure in place that allowed for the blossoming of scientific thinking that was to come, and has yet to abate? Deborah E. Harkness, a professor of history, has given an account of something we haven't thought much about: Elizabethan science. In _The Jewel House: Elizabethan London and the Scientific Revolution_ (Yale University Press), Harkness has given an extensive history of how sixteenth century London took up scientific enquiry. She admits that other than Francis Bacon there will be few well known "scientists" here. To speak strictly, there wasn't anyone called a scientist until the word was invented in the nineteenth century. And the Elizabethans profiled here didn't come up with many scientific breakthroughs. On the other hand, they were energetic and curious Londoners, "naturalists, medical practitioners, mathematicians, teachers, inventors, and alchemists", who wanted to study the world and benefit people thereby, and Harkness has told a story that deserves telling.

The first case study Harkness undertakes is that of the naturalists centered in Lime Street, a cosmopolitan central London neighborhood, "the English outpost of a Europe-wide network of students of nature." The naturalists here corresponded with each other in a way that (at least sometimes) shows the ideal balance of cooperation and competitiveness that scientists ought to have, and they swapped specimens and did fieldwork.
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63 of 65 people found the following review helpful By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on March 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As an anthropologist, I was reading this book with delight, and thinking it was just like an ethnography--to find that at the end she describes it as "an ethnography of early modern science," and cites such ethnographic luminaries as George Marcus and Bruno Latour. Indeed, this is a look at the actual culture of scientific and technical discovery in London in Elizabeth I's time. It is a real eye-opener. London at the time was swarming with technologists, herbalists, medical investigators, and every sort of inventor--not to speak of quacks, con artists and mountebanks pretending to be all of the above. The search for knowledge was downright frantic. Those of us who knew only a little about the history of early modern science knew only a tiny thin thread of this--a bit of Bacon (she cuts him down to size!) and a few others.
It is striking to compare London with China at approximately the same time; Benjamin Elman, William Rowe, and others have shown a similar and equally little-known ferment there, but even their best efforts don't seem to show as much sheer originality, inventiveness, and wild-eyed experimentation in Chinese cities as London had. China never quite made the breakthrough to modern science until the 20th century. London--and, Ogilvie reminds us, the whole "republic of letters" all over Europe--had a culture of scientific advance rooted in trades, crafts, mining, brewing, fish trapping, bird snaring, everything. People were trying every new scheme to produce more.
Alchemy and astrology receive due respect here. In those days, everyone knew that metallurgy could make amazing transformations; no one knew that gold, silver, etc. were primary elements that simply could not be easily transformed into each other.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Jim Schmidt on September 12, 2012
Format: Paperback
I'm giving this a 3.51 and rounding it up to a 4 :-)

I'll give the book a 3 for "readability/accessibility" and a 4+ for scholarship.

I read this book because it is a scholarly/nonfiction work by Deborah Harkness, whose novels "Discovery of Witches" and "Shadow of Night" I have enjoyed thoroughly. Indeed, its obvious that so much of the "smartness" and intelligence of her novels comes from hours and hours and hours of research in some of the world's oldest and most prestigious libraries and collections.

The Bibliography of the book is loaded with citations of hundreds of 17th century manuscripts and other primary sources and period books.

Interestingly, this book had some of the same characteristics of her novels - a GREAT beginning and a WONDERFUL ending sandwich a so-so middle.

The book was a look at science in Elizabethan London which also satisfies my own professional and historical interests in science, invention, and chemistry, although not from anacademic perspective.

As with most things, it's amazing how little things change over time and how we never seem to learn important lessons - whether you are for or against government influence/sponsoring of emerging or "pet" industries/technologies - Solyndra and the military-industrial complex being recent and timeless examples - you will be astounded to learn how politics, power, and royalty - even as high as Queen Elizabeth I - influenced what scientific and industrial projects received financing in the 1600s. And if you think today's politicians are greedy/corrupt, they seem like saints against the men in high places who profited from these projects.
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