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Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution Paperback – December 5, 2000

3.6 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Even Einstein had to eat. We seem to forget that scientists live in the same world as the rest of us, and that their work is informed by everything they encounter day to day. Lisa Jardine explores this interconnectedness in the context of the late 17th-century scientific revolution in Ingenious Pursuits, a well-planned journey back in time that delivers precious insight into the lives of those who laid the groundwork for cloning, nuclear weapons, and Internet commerce. Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, and Gian Domenico Cassini are just a few of the multitalented explorers that Jardine profiles through diaries, letters, and scientific records. Taking the time to fully flesh out the lives of these adventurous spirits, she shows the reader that science began as a natural curiosity about the material world, inspired by diverse interests: art, religion, medicine, engineering, and more.

Political meddling in science is nothing new; even 300 years ago rulers competed for knowledge and the status that came from scientific achievement. Jardine expands on this premise to see the colonial expansion of the time as a driving force behind research, responsible for the contemporary explosions in cartography, botany, and optics. While Ingenious Pursuits stays for the most part in the 17th century, it does remind us of our own interwoven scientific and social threads, and that perhaps the next revolutionary breakthrough will come about as much because of telemarketers as National Science Foundation grants. --Rob Lightner --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

How do periods of great intellectual energy come about? Why are major discoveries made at certain historical moments? To answer such questions, Jardine (Worldly Goods; coauthor of Hostage to Fortune, a biography of Francis Bacon, Forecasts, Apr. 26) studies the intellectual community of late-17th-century London, beautifully evoking the excitement accompanying that period's major inventions and discoveries. Jardine traces relationships among the most famous figures of the period (e.g., Sir Isaac Newton, Christopher Wren, John Locke) and links their work to a network of scientists and philosophers generated by the founding of the Royal Society in London. A portrait emerges of a community of adventurous and imaginative people interested in science for its contribution to human understanding. Jardine's central contention is that the period was characterized by so much cross-pollination between what we now call the sciences and the humanities that the distinction between the two realms we now take for granted didn't yet exist. The chapters range across a huge body of ideas, discoveries and processes, which turn out to be closely connected: mapping the elliptical orbits of comets; tracing blood circulation; importing rare and remote plants to England; founding Britain's famous museums; inventing air pumps, diving bells, spring watches. The volume's comprehensive catalogue of gizmos and brainstorms comes at the expense of historical analysis, but Jardine gives a memorable account of cultural ferment and individual genius during the scientific revolution. Illustrations. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (December 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385720017
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385720014
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #785,832 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Ingenious Pursuits" follows the scientific community of Britain through the second half of the 1600's, with a little spillover into the early 1700's. Jardine has pulled off quite a feat here: she weaves together the interconnected stories of medicine, physics, astronomy, cartography, anatomy, chemistry, biology and botany, along with a clear look at the society in which the key figures moved.
Most histories of this period that deal with science at all fall into a couple of easily defined categories. They may take a single thread and follow it: there are many accounts of the discovery of calculus, for example, that discuss Fermat, Descartes, Leibniz and Newton. These books shed only a tangential light on the social background and say little or nothing about the state of the rest of science. Other books may neglect the details of the science in order to convey the society; or may provide biographies of individual figures. Jardine points out one of the dangers in this last approach: Robert Boyle's first biographer decided to focus primarily on his contributions to chemistry, and actually destroyed much source material related to other interests of his.
Jardine's approach here is to give a chapter to each of several fields, and trace the history of the field over fifty or sixty years. The first chapter, for example, covers astronomy, including the identification of Halley's comet and the founding of the Greenwich Observatory. Once the players are introduced, the reader finds them recurring over and over again in subsequent chapters; this is what unifies the book.
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By A Customer on January 25, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed Dr Jardine's previous book, Worldy Goods, and was fearful that her latest would not be as good. My fears were unjustified. Ingenious Pursuits is written in the same lively and clear style. She is a provocative historian who never shies away from engaging in debate. Few historians manage to convey their learning in such an accessible way. As a historian of eighteenth-century politics I am not in a position judge all her claims, but her main thesis - that the intellectual dichotomy between art and science is a false one, and would have been unrecognisable to people in the 17th Century - is put forward in a series compelling examples. A fine book and one I would recommend to all readers.
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Format: Hardcover
Lisa Jardine, who by the way is Jacob Bronowski's daughter, has written a lucid commentary on the rise of science in the late 17th Century. Her main thesis is to show the social interactions that fuel scientific investigation. The book succeeds in showing that science is not the lonely pursuit of societal misfits as so often characterized in the popular culture, but that of fertile social interactions between men and women of science. (Yes there are a few women here, though they necessarily remained behind the scenes due to the strict social conventions of the time.) Ms Jardine presents us with an exciting cast of characters, and in fact, many are the same folks inhabiting Ian Pears great novel, The Instance of the Fingerpost. This was truly an exciting period in the development of science.
We have Robert Hooke, experimenting on himself with emetics and purgatives loaded with antimony, arsenic, mercury and a host of weird botanical extracts. In his diary, he complains of misty vision and ringing in the ears, so to cure these symptoms, he takes more of the same. The symptoms of course are those of heavy metal poisoning. Interestingly, this was the age of "holistic" medicine, where the whole body was treated and where the cures did not target specific symptoms and maladies.
There is Boyle with his vacuum chamber snuffing out little critters in front of the Royal Society. Not to be outdone by his evacuated fauna, he himself went into a chamber to be evacuated. Lucky him -- the system failed. Some of this group of eminent scientists did have serious qualms on the common practice of dissecting live dogs (vivisection). This was in the age before anesthesia.
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Format: Hardcover
In her latest book, Lisa Jardine proves a fascinating guide as she leads us through the scientific revolution. She has chosen a period populated by a truly engaging cast of characters, each of whom Jardine brings fully to life, presenting the work of Hooke, Wren, Newton and many others in its social context. The result is a unique insight into the 17th century, offering something to interest both experts and the general reader. Professor Jardine's insistence that science and art have been artificially sundered illuminates both past and present: her protagonists straddle the two realms with ease, and suggest that the separation of the disciplines in the public imagination is wholly unjustified. Professor Jardine is also keen to demonstrate that the notion of the lone scientist making breakthroughs in isolation is a myth - throughout history, scientists have relied upon the work of others, whether or not this previous work has been officially recognised. Jardine, a consummate communicator of complex ideas, manages to both advance her theories, and entertain the reader - an achievement which should not be underestimated, resulting in a truly remarkable work of scholarship.
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