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The Philosophical Breakfast Club

Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World

By Laura J. Snyder

The Philosophical Breakfast Club
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  • Published in USA  Feb 2011,
    448 pages.

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Gwendolyn D. (Houston, TX) (01/13/11)

An engaging history of modern science
The Philosophical Breakfast Club is a comprehensive history of the beginnings of modern science told from the alternating perspectives of four Cambridge students. In the early 1800s, William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones met at Cambridge and instituted regular discussions over breakfast where they committed to work for scientific progress and the greater public recognition of scientists. During the momentous lifetimes of these four men, a man of science went from “a country parson collecting beetles in his spare hours” to “a member of a professional class … pursuing a common activity within a certain institutional framework ….”

The Philosophical Breakfast Club covers, in great detail, Babbage’s invention of the first computer, Herschel’s book introducing Francis Bacon’s scientific method to the general public, Whewell’s universal theory of tides, Jones’s economic theories, and many other important scientific breakthroughs. The chapter describing Herschel’s 4-year stint in the Cape Colony of southern Africa mapping the stars of the southern hemisphere is a particularly nice set piece. A’s clear, simple prose brings complex topics within reach of a lay audience, but the book occasionally gives more detail than the non-scientific reader will have patience for. Overall, The Philosophical Breakfast Club is an engaging and accessible history of modern science.
Doris K. (Angora, MN) (01/13/11)

The Philosophical Breakfast Club
You don't have to be a philosopher or a scientist to enjoy this book. The author gives insight in the lives of four men who were lifelong friends. These men made great strides in the field of science in the 19th century. Thanks to them we have computers,cameras, knowledge of tides, the science of economics and countless other discoveries. Included are details of their personal lives which make the book "readable" to the ordinary reader. This book follows the BookBrowse's goal of entertaining as well as informing the reader.
Daniel A. (Naugatuck, CT) (01/12/11)

The Philosophical Breakfast Club
After reading this book, I find myself wanting to know more about these four scientists and their experiments. Although the book was written similarly to a textbook, it is loaded with facts, even though the writing is a little bit on the tedious side.
I highly recommend this book to whomever wants to read about these four scientists who changed how we look at modern science today. The experiments they performed were fascinating, and the meetings at the Breakfast Club were interesting.
Chet Y. (Las Vegas, NV) (01/12/11)

Who are these guys?
"The Philosophical Breakfast Club" memorialises how young "science" is in the history of humankind.

Ms. Snyder's scholarly research colloquially recounts the broad expansion of science in the early 19th century with a personal history of 4 men, Whewell, Herschal, Babbage, and Jones and their refinement and redirection of science. These 4 men literally and figuratively defined the word "scientist"; i.e., a pursuer of accurate facts that can be synthesized into a theory that is reproducible when the same facts are in evidence.

A good read for anyone interested in the history of science.
Susan B. (Rutledge, MO) (01/12/11)

Interesting times, confusing timeline
Obviously a lot of research went into this book, and much of the history was fascinating, but overall the book wasn't cohesive or interesting enough for my taste. A full list of characters and their relationships would have been helpful (all the wives and daughters and college friends got confusing after the first few chapters), as well as a detailed timeline of wider culture events and important dates in the main characters' lives.

Had this been written in chronological order rather than thematically, I might have been able to read it more easily and thus like it more, but the amount of skipping back and forth between time periods didn't work for me. More than once an event was recounted and I found myself scratching my head ("Isn't he already dead?"), and then realized that we'd gone back a number of decades and I hadn't processed the dates correctly.

If you can manage to keep a lot of dates clear in your head the book might work better for you, and if you are at all interested in the history of science and/or England in the mid to late 1800's, I think it is worth reading.
Priscilla M. (Houston, TX) (01/11/11)

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) (01/09/11)

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) (01/08/11)

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!

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