A Great Visit with the Philosophical Breakfast Club
In June, 1833, the British Association for the Advancement of Science met at Cambridge University in England with members from all over the world. William Whewell of Lancashire addressed the gathering and spoke out especially for astronomy as the”Queen of the Sciences” promoting “facts and theory” calling those who pursued these as philosophers of which he was pleased to be a member. A strident voice from the audience, none other than the Romantic poet, Coleridge, called Whewell and his “philosophers” to task for using a term to which they were not entitled. They were doing experiments,so to speak “getting their hands dirty”. As a “real metaphysician” Coleridge no longer permitted them this noble term. Whewell, with respect, genially accepted that the word having being taken by a loftier group, his men would by analogy with the "artist", form the word "scientist". Thus a new word, and profession, was coined which would catch on in decades to come.
Along with William Whewell, who came from humble beginnings, were three other “scientists”, Charles Babbage, John Herschel and Richard Jones, a burst of discoveries and knowledge would change the nineteenth century to such a degree that these four very different men from varied backgrounds would remain friends for over fifty years as a result of their friendships formed at Cambridge. John Herschel, son of a famous astronomer father, was also a musician who composed symphonies and discovered a new planet! The first mechanical computer, invented by Charles Babbage, described ingeniously by the author lead the way to our modern computer technology. Richard Jones ,a Welshman with language skills studied law but became a minister instead and contributed more to raise what was called “political economy” to the more legitimate science of Economics. These and many other inventions surrounded the four inquiring minds who were part of the fifty year surge of progress of their time that parallels the past fifty years of our own modern age. This multi-biography is well-researched and many-layered but remains a fascinating read beyond the discoveries hinted at in this mere review. Especially on a cold winter’s night, it’s a pleasure to be transported back to a time that was thought to be slower and quieter but was real and dynamic, a great bedside companion or group discussion book for those who like their history and science blended with zest and humanity.
Rated of 5
by Deb Y. (Blanco, TX)
The Philosophical Breakfast Club is well written and very easy to read, even for a truly science-challenged person such as I. Laura Snyder has taken the subject and made it worth a read (even if you care nothing about philosophy/scientists), as it involves much, much more. Please read it when you have some time to sit and savor...
Rated of 5
by Penny P. (Santa barbara, Calif)
A look at science
Not having much background (or interest) in science, it took a couple of attempts to get into this book. Once I did,it was fairly easy to understand and was pretty interesting.The writing was good and did a good job of providing a historic perspective. I know more about the subject than I did before so that is a good thing. I have a friend that is interested in science and I know she will appreciate the book.
Rated of 5
by Vivian H. (Winchester, VA)
The Birth of Modern Science
This book is for anyone who has an interest in 19th Century history - not just scientific developments. Four men of quite different backgrounds met at Cambridge and came to believe in the Baconian view that scientific discovery should benefit humankind, make the lives of ordinary people better. It was fascinating for me to read about the dawn of modern economics and how the political arguments of the time echo the same arguments we have today about social welfare. I wanted to read this book because I have an interest in John Herschel and his contribution to early photography and astronomy. But this story is so much more...about lifelong friendships, the industrial revolution, the pursuit of knowledge and scientific discovery through experimentation. This book is accessible for non scientists such as myself, is well written and gives amazing insights into the birth of modern science.
Rated of 5
by Celia A. (Takoma Park, MD)
Slow read, but worth it
The writing style tended to be more academic than your typical popular book, so it was occasionally slow going. The author tends to go off on tangents that, although they come back around to her four protagonists, could probably be deleted without hurting the book. Despite these minor flaws, I enjoyed reading this book about a part of the history of science that I know very little. I'm glad that I pushed through to the end.
Rated of 5
by 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.
Rated of 5
by 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.
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