In this fascinating look at the European scientific advances of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, historian Lisa Jardine demonstrates that the pursuit of knowledge occurs not in isolation, but rather in the lively interplay and frequently cutthroat competition between creative minds.
The great thinkers of that extraordinary age, including Isaac Newton, Johannes Kepler, and Christopher Wren, are shown in the context in which they lived and worked. We learn of the correspondences they kept with their equally passionate colleagues and come to understand the unique collaborative climate that fostered virtuoso discoveries in the areas of medicine, astronomy, mathematics, biology, chemistry, botany, geography, and engineering. Ingenious Pursuits brilliantly chronicles the true intellectual revolution that continues to shape our very understanding of ourselves, and of the world around us.
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 Cahners Business Information.