Priscilla M. (Houston, TX)
Renassaince Men of Science
I have always been fascinated by men like Leonardo da Vinci, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson because their interest in the world around them knew no bounds. They were scholars, writers, inventors, and artists. Early in the 1800s, four such men met while at Cambridge and formed a friendship that was to change the definition of the pursuit of science. Charles Babbage, John Herschel, Richard Jones, and William Whewell formed the Philosophical Breakfast Club based on their shared admiration of Francis Bacon and his writings on inductive reasoning and on his belief that "knowledge is power." Prior to this time, science was not practiced with other scientists. It was a solitary pursuit with little recognition or rewards. There was no agreed upon scientific method, and science was not thought of as something that could be used to improve the lives of ordinary people.
The term "scientist" was actually coined by Whewell. Up until his use of the word, anyone who pursued a scientific interest was known as a man of science or natural philosopher. Men of science experimented in a wide variety of disciplines, including art, poetry, theology, and photography.
Babbage, Herschel, Jones, and Hewell devoted their lives to transforming science and scientists. The author has presented a fascinating look at four giants of their time whose varied interests enabled them to map the stars, seas and land.
Vicky S. (Torrance, CA)
Interesting HIstory of Science
I found this book to be hard going. It wasn't difficult to understand but rather dense. I did enjoy the mixture of personal information about the men as well as the scientific history. I don't agree that the book would appeal to a wide variety of readers. I could see my dad, a retired aerospace engineer, appreciating this book and finding numerous sections on which to comment and discuss.
Anna S. (Auburn, AL)
The Philosophical Breakfast Club
First, let me say that I love this book and second, let me say that I don't think everyone will. Anyone with an interest in the history of science and technology will find it fascinating. One of the things I really liked about it was the fact that these four incredibly brilliant men were presented, warts and all, and not merely as plaster saints. What was almost incredible, though, was the breadth of their knowledge. In addition to being scientists (a term coined by one of them), they were poets and linguists and artists and other things as well. In today's world of hyper-specialization, it's hard to imagine any scientist being fluent in so many different areas. What a lesson for us all!
Jon V. (Marysville, PA)
Titans of Science
It would have been enough to devote this book to even one of the four scientists Snyder profiles. That she deftly weaves in and out of all four men's lives, highlighting their relationships, their philosophies, and their scientific contributions is remarkable. The science can become overwhelming at times, but for someone with a broad curiosity or an abiding interest in science, it's worth the read.
Mary G. (River Forest, IL)
Great Science But Connections Broke Down
It's an extremely well researched book about the four men who helped science establish standards for the science community in the 1800's. I had difficulty, however, with the author's time lines. She jumped around too often, leaving the human theme hanging, leaving the reader waiting for the story line to arc back and complete its original direction. Sometimes, she didn't make it back. Granted, chapter 12 does a great job of summing up the scientific matter. Even there, though, she made me wade through pages of science that had little to do with wrapping up the story of the four men who made it all possible, so I felt a bit let down. I admit that science isn't my particular bag and, in that case, I need a good story to push the boundaries of my horizons.
Dorothy M. (Maynard, MA)
From generalist amateurs to professional scientists
At the beginning of the 19th century, what we now think of as scientific pursuits were the purview of talented and often wealthy amateurs. Scientist was not a word, there was no money to support research, and the concept of a scientific method was unknown. Four visionary Cambridge students, Richard Jones, Charles Babbage, William Whewell and John Herschel were determined to change this and, amazingly through their work and their influence on the work of those who followed them, managed to do so. In telling their story, Laura J. Snyder also tells the story of the Victorian age - politically and socially as well as providing (often in excruciating detail) information on their varied work.
Because they were generalists rather than specialists, the subjects range from poetry to code breaking to astronomy to tide mapping to economic theory and more. William Whewell, as an example, is described as a “mathematician - mineralogist - architectural historian - linguist - classicist - physicist - geologist - historian - philosopher - theologian - mountainclimbing - poet”. In explaining the scope of the influence of these men, Snyder covers the work of pretty much everyone they knew - who, it appears, was everyone remotely involved in scientific research during their lifetime and beyond. This book will be a real historical treat for members of the scientific community and for those of us less familiar with the subject, it is an engaging primer.
Carol T. (Ankeny, Iowa)
Philosophical Breakfast Club
Every page reminds me of yet another person who would really enjoy this book. I may have to buy a peck of them for gifts this next year!! Historian, scientist, mathematician, economist, inquiring mind....there's something here to satisfy nearly everyone's interest.