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The Forgotten Genius Hardcover – April 1, 2004

4.4 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Forgotten though he may have been, this is the second biography of Hooke to appear this season (after Lisa Jardine's The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, Forecasts, Nov. 17, 2003). The next time you open a window, thank Robert Hooke, who invented the modern sash window. Or thank him when you're driving your car, for Hooke invented the universal joint, indispensable in transmissions. In this extensively researched biography, Inwood (A History of London), like Jardine, wants to rehabilitate Hooke's reputation after centuries of denigration due mainly to Hooke's celebrated disputes with Isaac Newton and other luminaries like Hevelius, Huygens and Leibniz, whom he accused of taking credit for his discoveries. In addition to his work as a scientist, Hooke played an important role alongside Christopher Wren in rebuilding London after the devastating fire of 1666; Inwood argues that history has credited to Wren many buildings that were actually designed by Hooke. Hooke's mind-boggling breadth of interests can be compared only with da Vinci's, and he was equally prescient: his argument with Newton over the nature of light (wave or particle?) was 200 years ahead of its time, and he anticipated Lyell and Darwin in his firm belief in the cataclysmic history of the earth's surface. This book complements Jardine's: Inwood provides substantially more insight into Hooke's career as a scientist and the better account of the quarrels with Newton, but Jardine paints a more vivid portrait of Hooke the man. Both biographies are recommended for readers interested in early modern science. 37 illus.
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From Booklist

Consigned to centuries of obscurity, the Renaissance scientist and architect Hooke has finally captured the limelight in two excellent new biographies. Like the recently published study by Lisa Jardine (The Curious Life of Robert Hooke [BKL Ja 1 & 15 04]), Inwood's portrait illuminates the brilliance of a hunchbacked polymath whose rare talents left their seldom-acknowledged marks on a dozen disciplines. But while Jardine concludes that Hooke fell short of true genius because he spread his gifts too thin, Inwood interprets the diversity of Hooke's accomplishments as the very mark of genius. In encyclopedic detail, Inwood surveys Hooke's astounding range of feats: charting the heavens and mapping London's teeming streets; laying out sublime designs for churches and engraving the microscopic images of fleas; inventing modern watches and deciphering ancient fossils. In restoring luster to Hooke's reputation as an intellectual, Inwood also recovers his wholeness as a complex human being, prone to contentiousness and miserliness yet capable of selfless and lasting friendship. A balanced portrait certain to prevent its subject from sliding back into the mere footnotes of history. Bryce Christensen
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 482 pages
  • Publisher: MacAdam/Cage Publishing; First Edition (1st printing) edition (April 1, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931561567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931561563
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,436,604 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Timothy Haugh VINE VOICE on November 11, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a physics teacher, I had been well aware of Robert Hooke. Every year I teach Hooke's Law of elasticity to my students. Additionally, I had been aware of the importance of his book Micrographia and, since I consider myself a bit of a student on Isaac Newton, I had known something of his conflict with Newton over the Principia. However, I admit my knowledge of Hooke was sketchy. As a student of scientific history, I wanted that rectified so I turned to this book. It was certainly a rewarding experience.

Without a doubt, I learned much more than I ever knew about Robert Hooke and I gained a new respect for the man. Hooke's areas of interest were wide and his curiosity unbounded. I was completely unaware of his work with Christopher Wren and his own contributions to architecture and the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire. Additionally, I came to admire his willingness to stand behind the virtues of science (as in his prescient speculations on evolution) in the face of religious prejudice. And, apart from learning about Hooke, this book gives a deeper understanding of what it was like to be a working scientist in the early years of scientific exploration. It is certainly an excellent example of scientific biography.

There are a couple weaknesses with the book that kept coming back to me as I read, however. The first has to do with style; particularly, the style that I've noticed most often in British histories of science. Namely, the overabundance of information. This book is packed with detail. Much more detail than is really necessary in telling Hooke's story.
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Format: Hardcover
This book provides a great deal of information about Robert Hooke not only as a contributor to modern science, but as a person during his lifetime. The issue of Newton being an antagonistic force in Hooke's life is emphasized greatly, and helps the reader understand how much power Hooke had to exert in order to make his ideas and discoveries known.

The book is enjoyable due to the fact that it does not solely focus on the science related aspect of Hooke's career. Having known little about him before I opened the book, I was surprised to find that he had a great deal of influence on structural architecture during the seventeenth century. The book provided me with a substantial amount of knowledge regarding Hooke's inventions and discoveries, as well as his personal feelings and reactions to certain people or occurrences, through the many quotations of his present throughout the reading.

This book is a fantastic source for one who is interested in learning about every aspect of Hooke's life, from the contributions to science as a general subject to his contributions to architecture and his involvement in technology during his time period. Not only was I able to gain a better understanding of the scientist and inventor within Hooke, but I was also able to understand him as a person and his life as well.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This brusque point by Newton points to one of the many reasons why Robert Hooke, one of the most dedicated and inventive thinkers of the Scientific Revolution in England, never received the recognition that he felt he deserved. Newton is referring specifically to Hooke's consistent claim that he deserved the credit for the law of universal gravitation. This excellent biography makes abundantly clear that Hooke talked about the inverse square law and the principles of gravity long before Newton published the Principia but that did not mean that Newton did not know of them beforehand or that he plagiarized them from Hooke. Nor is it clear that Hooke deeply understood the universal power of this insight since later papers by him show variations in his understanding of what gravity is. Nor, even if he did understand it, could Hooke have stated it mathematically or with such sweeping universal application. Newton is right.

Newton's intense dislike of him is one reason Hooke has had a negative image in history. Stephen Inwood's biography of Hooke, loaded with interesting details about the state of science in the late 1600's, is out to change that perception. I think it does that successfully. Hooke was a polymath genius whose papers and lectures to the Royal Society were in so many ways visionary, foundational to science, and ahead of his time.
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Format: Paperback
A thoroughly readable and enjoyable book about the intellectual colleague and contemporary of Christopher Wren and Isaac Newton in 17th century London. The writing is witty and engaging and provides a vivid look at the social, scientific and physical structure of London after the Great Fire. I especially enjoyed the author's humorous descriptions of the machinations behind the scenes of the Royal Society and the often dangerous and bizarre experiments that Hooke and others would perform for the Society. A great peep into the development of many engineering, physics, astronomical chemistry and architectural discoveries.
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