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The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe

13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1250008770
ISBN-10: 1250008778
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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Shakespeare scanned the cosmos through Galileo’s telescope? Falk argues that the bard may indeed have drawn inspiration from the Italian astronomer’s science, and he uncovers tantalizing hints of that inspiration in Shakespeare’s late plays, most notably, the perplexing Cymbeline. Even in earlier plays—Troilus and Cressida, Hamlet—Falk ferrets out evidence suggesting that Shakespeare was responsively aware of the new Copernican universe. In contemplating the bleak conclusion of King Lear, Falk considers the stunning possibility that England’s greatest playwright felt the gravitational pull of an atheism incubated by scientific skepticism. But how could a London dramatist have learned of the new science and its revolutionary implications? Falk limns possible links between the poet and England’s most advanced scientific thinkers, including Thomas Digges, John Dee, and Thomas Harriot. Through a Whitehall connection, Shakespeare might even have encountered the radical Copernicanism of Giordano Bruno. This inquiry finally says little new about Shakespeare’s literary genius. But readers will thank Falk for putting Shakespeare and Galileo on the same well-illuminated world stage. --Bryce Christensen


“Dan Falk is the finest science writer working today. This fabulous book will give equal joy to fans of the Bard and to history-of-science buffs. Note to Horatio: Read this -- it'll bring you up to speed.” ―Robert J. Sawyer, Hugo Award-winning author of Red Planet Blues

“There is science in everything, even the works of the immortal Bard. Dan Falk's rich and fascinating book brings to light the many ways in which Shakespeare and science influenced each other, from telescopes to blood-letting. A great read for anyone who enjoys words and ideas.” ―Sean Carroll, physicist and author of The Particle at the End of the Universe

“Dan Falk's book provides perhaps the best guide to the scientific worldview prevailing in the Elizabethan Age. We learn, for example, about what Giordano Bruno did while in England, about Thomas Harriot's telescopic view of the Moon's surface drawn some months before Galileo's, and of the appearance of atoms in several of Shakespeare's plays… Falk's narrative voice is smooth, reasonable, likable.” ―Phillip F. Schewe, author of Maverick Genius

“Dan Falk has written another splendid book. After Universe on a T-shirt and In Search of Time, he moves back four centuries to the science of Shakespeare's day.... Falk sheds enormous light on the Elizabethan outlook and particular puzzles in the plays, all the while entertaining us in a most engaging way.” ―James Robert Brown, author of The Laboratory of the Mind

“In this thought-provoking book, Dan Falk explores the intriguing connections between the Bard's writings and the dramatic scientific discoveries of the late Renaissance, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters along the way. A great read.” ―Ray Jayawardhana, astrophysicist and author of Strange New Worlds and Neutrino Hunters

“A highly entertaining and informative book… Falk has done his homework. He offers something learned but at the same time keeps it personal and unpretentious.” ―Dennis Richard Danielson, Professor of English, University of British Columbia, and author of The Book of The Cosmos

“Readers will thank Falk for putting Shakespeare and Galileo on the same well-illuminated world stage.” ―Booklist

“A lively but serious look at the Bard's relationship to his age, particularly what we now call the Scientific Revolution.” ―Tampa Bay Times

“This eminently readable book should prove fascinating to both lovers of science and bardolators.” ―Library Journal

“At the heart of his argument is an ambitious effort to offer empirical assurance for what we all intuit -- that art and science need each other, inform and inspire one another, and are branches from the same tree of the human longing in a universe that is more like a mirror of meaning than a window of understanding, beaming back at us whatever imagination we imbue it with.” ―Brainpickings

“This book is accessible, with clear explanations of potentially challenging concepts in the history of early modern science. It is an enjoyable read, which will appeal to non-specialists, but nonetheless is based on a comprehensive engagement with the pertinent academic scholarship. The work is well-informed, enthusiastic, and recommended to anyone seeking a new take on the oft-studied Bard.” ―Chemistry World

“What Hawking's [A Brief History of Time] should have been.” ―Ottawa Citizen on In Search of Time

“Falk seamlessly combines science with literary and philosophical observations… and digresses to fascinating topics like root notions of past and future, the vagaries of memory, and the behavior of birds at breakfast time.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review) on In Search of Time

“Time is a big subject and Falk is up to the task.” ―The Globe and Mail on In Search of Time

“In this thoroughly readable, broad-sweeping, and thought-provoking book, Falk surveys humanity's attempts to record and understand time, and poses some fascinating questions.” ―New Scientist magazine on In Search of Time

“Falk displays a deft touch with both temporal history and experimentation.” ―Toronto Star on In Search of Time

“Accessible and Entertaining.” ―Financial Times on In Search of Time

“Falk is a great writer.” ―BBC Focus on In Search of Time

“Dan Falk is a riveting writer: his latest book is almost unputdownable.” ―Martin J. Rees, author of Just Six Numbers and Our Final Hour, on In Search of Time

“An engaging writer who fearlessly tackles potentially brain-freezing topics.” ―San Francisco Chronicle on In Search of Time

“[Falk] selects, organizes and interprets a mass of lore for our enlightenment and pleasure. We owe him.” ―Scientific American on In Search of Time

“A highly accessible introduction to some tough and important physics.” ―American Scientist on Universe on a T-Shirt

“Crisply written, well-researched.” ―Sky & Telegraph on Universe on a T-Shirt

“[Falk] has a wonderful gift for finding helpful analogies and for writing about science in a way that is accessible without sounding dumbed down.” ―Booklist on Universe on a T-Shirt

“Falk endorses the idea that the best hope for a so-called theory of everything is in string theory, a difficult area of sicence that Falk nevertheless deftly unravels for the uninitiated.” ―Science News on Universe on a T-Shirt


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books (April 22, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250008778
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250008770
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #457,467 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thanks for looking me up on Amazon! I'm a science journalist, author, and broadcaster based in Toronto, Canada. I've written three books so far: My first book, Universe on a T-Shirt, looked at the quest for a unified theory of physics, while In Search of Time explored the physics and philosophy of time.

I'm very excited about my new book, The Science of Shakespeare, to be published this April! This time I turn the clock back 400 years, investigating the period we now call the Scientific Revolution, and looking at the interplay between science and literature in the age of Shakespeare.

The book is published in the U.S. by St. Martin's Press and in Canada by Goose Lane.

Visit my website at -- I'd love to hear from you!

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on July 3, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I had never before considered the scientific worldview of William Shakespeare. Like almost every other American I had read the Bard’s great tragedies in high school and college—Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Hamlet—and only gained an appreciation of his comedies and historical works later in life. One of the things I learned early on, however, if one wanted to understand the real history of Julius Caesar or King Richard II, or name the historical actor of your choice don’t rely on Shakespeare for knowledge. He was a playwright focused on producing engaging, successful theater aimed at the masses.

Although this is an interesting and enlightening book with more to offer than I initially though, I might say about Shakespeare and science. At no point in the past have I ever thought of his plays as exemplars of understanding about the Scientific Revolution then under way when he wrote them. True, in the early 1600s Galileo was turning his telescope on Jupiter and published "The Starry Messenger"; somewhat before that Copernicus was developing a new model of the solar system that replaced the Ptolemaic geocentric explanation. The ferment in science was palpable. Shakespeare may not have been educated at Cambridge or Oxford, but according to author Dan Falk he certainly took in the intellectual milieu around him.

Did the Scientific Revolution find expression in the writings of Shakespeare? That is the core question posed by Falk. He answers it in the affirmative. Some of the connections are well developed, and some are so much speculation, but the reality is that if one reads his plays seeking evidence of a reflection of the scientific ferment around him it is there in abundance. The lion’s share of the book teases out these connections.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Kirk McElhearn VINE VOICE on August 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
There’s always room for books aimed at the general public examining some obscure element of Shakespeare’s life or thought. Since we don’t know much about his life, or his thought – other than through the plays – there’s plenty of speculation in books like this. Some succeed in being interesting and thought-provoking; and some don’t.

Dan Falk’s The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright’s Universe (, Amazon UK) looks at Shakespeare in the context of the “scientific revolution” that took place following the Renaissance. Born the same year as Galileo, Shakespeare lived at a time when a new understanding of the universe, and of certain types of what we now call science, was taking shape. Falk, a science writer and Shakespeare buff, sets out to juxtapose the two: the new science of the 16th and early 17th centuries, and the plays of Shakespeare. As often with books like this, there is a lot of trying to fit a not-quite-round peg into a square hole.

First, the title is misleading; the book is not really about “science” as such; it is mostly about astronomy, and the history of the changes from the geocentric model of the universe to the heliocentric model, ushered in by Copernicus. Falk discusses this at length, going through the genealogy of universe revolutionizers from Copernicus to some English astronomers that Shakespeare may have encountered, either in the flesh or through books. There are many tenuous suppositions, but that’s the nature of most books about Shakespeare. He “may have” met so-and-so; he “might have” read a certain book; “perhaps” he knew a specific person.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As other reviewers have said, this book’s title doesn’t reflect well its contents. It has little about the science of Shakespeare. But it has some on his astronomy and especially the astronomy of his time and the philosophical thinking that went along with those discoveries and scientific develops at the time. If you like that period of history, and science, and Shakespeare and those around him then you will likely enjoy the book. I did very much and hope to find time to read it again. I do though have a major criticism of his book though and that is he should have just avoided the Shakespeare authorship question. This is because the topic is far more complicated and sophisticated and it’s obvious that he hasn’t the slightest knowledge about. And so he came off as extremely simple and foolish minded on the topic. If he knew how far off base he was on it he would be embarrassed. And if he ever did try to battle against the anti-Stratfordians as he mentioned then he would find himself soon crawling under a table to hide as mainstream scholars themselves have done. What is especially ironic is that he certainly admires the likes of those that thought for themselves and questioned the ideas and beliefs of the time—Copernicus, Tyco Brahe, Kepler, Hariot, Galileo, etc. and he often quotes their attitudes of open mindedness. For instance, he quotes from the book Castle of Knowledge “first impressions can be deceiving; that the truth sometimes requires us to abandon our preconceptions…..” “be not abused by their authority, but ever more attend to their reasons, and examine them well, ever regarding more what is said, and how it is proved, than who said it; for authority often times deceives many men.Read more ›
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