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The Invention of Air: A Story Of Science, Faith, Revolution, And The Birth Of America Paperback – September 29, 2009
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Johnson does an exceptional job of telling Priestley's story, explaining his scientific discoveries, political philosophies, and theological insights, and putting them all in their proper context. But he goes one step further: he endeavors to explain why Priestley accomplished what he did. He doesn't just focus on Priestley's character traits and native intelligence (both of which were extraordinary); rather, he attributes much of the man's success to his environment, to his friends, to the evolution of technology, and, quite simply, to good fortune. At a time when we are inundated with trendy books that pander to the public's appetite for facile explanations of complex processes (e.g., "Blink," "Gut Feelings: The Intelligence of the Unconscious," etc.), it is refreshing to see someone acknowledge that scientific discoveries, sociological insights and great ideas more often than not take years to evolve and are the product of numerous variables, many of which remain a mystery.
Priestley's enthusiasm, openness and child-like fascination with the world around him are infectious.Read more ›
The problem I have with this book is that it is misleading. To steal a phrase of Somerset Maugham (writing about himself), Joseph Priestley is a good scientist of the second rank. In virtually every account of the history of science or intellectual history he is regarded as a talented dilettante, a gifted amateur. He certainly played a role in the history of science, performing experiments that more important thinkers were able to utilize to further science, but Priestley himself frequently failed -- and Johnson does hint at this without emphasizing its significance -- to understand the full implications of the results of his experiments. He was extremely weak as a theoretician, which is why he is not accounted among the great scientists.
Why is this misleading? Well, historians of science do not regard Priestley as a key or even especially important figure. At no point does Johnson hint that this is the widespread assessment of Priestley's place. It is a tad misleading to state that his contemporaries had one opinion without proceeding to remark that their successors do not share that opinion. Johnson talks of Antoine Lavoisier and Joseph Priestley as the two leading chemists, but it is intensely deceptive to talk as if they were competitors for pride of place. Lavoisier is one of the great geniuses in the history of science. In fact, modern chemistry is usually credited with beginning with him.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Science and history are woven into a fine literary piece here. The lessons are timely given the current state of the climate.Published 3 months ago by jack wolf
interesting meld of science and history. puts things into perspective.Published 3 months ago by dbarbre
I don't think any reviewer has mentioned this, but Steve Johnson was in the excellent PBS series 'Search for the Elements' doing commentary about Priestly. Read morePublished 4 months ago by Donald E. Fulton
Great writing very well presented, fascinating subject. I've excerpted this for work and entertainment purposes and given it as a gift more than once.Published 5 months ago by J. Kocsis
This was an amazing tale from beginning to end. I am only saddened by the fact that I am just reading it in 2016 and not in 2008 when published. Read morePublished 5 months ago by @insurancebillvj
Very good book. Very intelligent and well written. Priestly was a formidable leader that influenced many, many people. Read morePublished 6 months ago by MarbTex
As a non-academic, this book was at times a bit dense on the intersections of the history of natural philosphy, politics, and religion at the dawn of the United States' creation,... Read morePublished 6 months ago by kbirdlincoln