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The Quest for the Invisible New edition Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0754661504
ISBN-10: 0754661504
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Editorial Reviews

Review

'This sparkling study of eighteenth-century science challenges modern assumptions that the microscope was usually regarded as little more than a scientific toy. By taking an entirely fresh approach, Marc J. Ratcliff shows that eighteenth-century microscopy in Europe is shockingly underestimated. Path-breaking work was indeed produced by scientific researchers. One innovative aspect is that he brings together many different individuals and different research traditions - for the first time, microscopy can be seen as an international enterprise, where correspondence, texts, illustrations, instruments, and specimens regularly crossed national boundaries and helped create a unique body of achievement. Another is to focus on the actual practices of microscopical investigation. Here Ratcliff evocatively describes the difficulties scholars encountered in representing the world of the invisible, and how they struggled to come to a consensus about visual and verbal conventions to indicate phenomena such as scale. Yet another is to critique the way we look back into the past with modern specializations in mind. These microscopical workers were as keen to philosophize about spontaneous generation and the origins of life as they were to investigate pond water or hunt for specks of living matter in detritus. Along the way, we come across a wonderful menagerie of animalcules, cochineal insects, polyps, and fungi. The world of the very small is revealed as problematic and utterly intriguing to the eighteenth-century people who attempted to describe it. Comprehensive, provocative, revisionist- this highly original book is sure to excite comment and command respect.' Janet Browne, Author of Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place '... fills an important gap in available treatments on the history of microscopy. Recommended.' Choice 'Ratcliff has provided an excellent case study of how knowledge is gained and how it is shared. His multilayered approach, looking at technical and social contexts as well as scientific studies of the period, brings an understanding of this period a long way.' Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 'Ratcliff's study is very compelling and certainly deserves a wide readership. This is even more the case as he corrects a long-established view taken for granted by historians of science. The decline of microscopic research in the eighteenth century is at least an oversimplification, and-as can be concluded from this excellent study-most likely a misinterpretation that resulted from an anachronistic approach towards the history of microscopy.' Metascience 'This is a meaty book containing a great deal of substance. It is a model for research on eighteenth-century science.' ISIS

About the Author

Marc J. Ratcliff is based at the University of Geneva, Switzerland.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Ashgate; New edition edition (April 23, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0754661504
  • ISBN-13: 978-0754661504
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,695,769 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a historian of eighteenth century medicine. I really like this book. The product review above gives an excellent picture of its contents. It is based on very thorough research into the experimental practices and documentation methods of the period, it is written in accessible prose and the argument is entirely convincing. Radcliffe does a good job of demonstrating how microscopy gradually evolved and improved during the course of the century. He explains how difficult it was to reach a scientific consensus about the nature of the objects that the microscope revealed for the first time to natural philosophers who lacked a common scientific vocabulary or taxonomy. He shows how they gradually created a research community whose members could build on each others' work. Although it is perfectly understandable, this book is intended for a scholarly audience not the casual reader, and the first section is rather slow going. After that, it becomes more and more engaging. For researchers who want to understand the progress of biological thought during this period it will be essential reading.
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