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The Science of Shakespeare: A New Look at the Playwright's Universe Hardcover – April 22, 2014

ISBN-13: 978-1250008770 ISBN-10: 1250008778

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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: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #235,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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

Review

Advance Praise for The Science of Shakespeare

"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

Praise for In Search of Time:

"What Hawking's [A Brief History of Time] should have been." —Ottawa Citizen

“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)

“Time is a big subject and Falk is up to the task.” —The Globe and Mail

"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

"Falk displays a deft touch with both temporal history and experimentation." —Toronto Star

“Accessible and Entertaining.” —Financial Times

“Falk is a great writer.” —BBC Focus

"Dan Falk is a riveting writer: his latest book is almost unputdownable." —Martin J. Rees, author of Just Six Numbers and Our Final Hour

“An engaging writer who fearlessly tackles potentially brain-freezing topics.” —San Francisco Chronicle

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

Praise for Universe on a T-Shirt:

"A highly accessible introduction to some tough and important physics." —American Scientist

"Crisply written, well-researched." —Sky & Telegraph

"[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

"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

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 www.danfalk.ca -- I'd love to hear from you!

Customer Reviews

It is an easy read, and an interesting and informative book.
Roger D. Launius
The least adequate thing about the book, however, is the way it ignores the basic scientific process of constructing an argument from evidence.
A Customer
You actually learn more about his life and the things he done throughout his time.
L. AllisonBurres

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

3 of 3 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.com, 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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 1, 2014
Format: Hardcover
This book provides an adequate historical overview of the transition from Ptolemaic astronomy to the modern Copernican variety. That's about as far as it goes with the sciences, however--it touches chemistry with a short section on alchemy and on human biology with an equally short one on medicine. Botany, zoology, geology, archaeology, meteorology, anthropology?-- there's plenty of stuff on those subjects in Shakespeare's work but not in this rambling, often cutesy book.
The least adequate thing about the book, however, is the way it ignores the basic scientific process of constructing an argument from evidence. It takes as a given, on the authority of the academic establishment, the convention that William Shakespeare of Stratford on Avon wrote the canon, and builds its entire case for the canon author's relationship to science on that mostly conjectural model. (William probably, very likely, almost certainly etc.) Like his academic mentors (who grant him an awful lot of their valuable time) the author dismisses Shakespeare identity skeptics as conspiracy cultists, snobs, and trouble makers.
It's an inappropriate attitude for a book about the rise of skepticism against long-entrenched but increasingly questioned authority.
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Format: Hardcover
Shakespeare and his works have been analyzed for centuries. With so much mystery surrounding the man, and such controversy surrounding his works and authorship, we dissect his works and pick a key theme to analyze. Some people argue about which play is best. Others look for themes of religion and politics in them and how they played a role in his life. Others analyze his individual characters and how they reflect his view of mankind. Author Dan Falk is no different in picking an element to explore, except the element he's chosen is science. In his book, The Science of Shakespeare, the author looks at the Bard and his writings through the lens of the scientific revolution that followed the Renaissance.

The first thing one notices when reading this book is that the title is misleading. Instead of focusing on various fields of science, Falk focuses primarily on astronomy and the change from a geocentric worldview to a heliocentric world view. In fact the first hundred or so pages barely mention Shakespeare, if at all. Instead we learn about different astronomers, scientific theories, and speculations that Shakespeare could have met them or read their writings. These were interesting chapters that made you at least pause and think. After this, there is a chapter on medicine and a chapter on magic. It would have been great if there had been more devoted to other sciences.

The last chapter of the book provided the most trouble for me. In this chapter, Falk made the mistake that many people make and equated science with atheism. He tries and in my opinion fails to make a case that Shakespeare was an atheist. It's a shame the book took this route, especially given the fact that he discouraged people from buying into fringe theories, and it seems he did just that.
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