The 17th and 18th centuries saw a scientific revolution unlike any in history; here's a look at the remarkable men (and a few women) who brought it about. While her subject is international in scope, and in its broadest outlines spans three centuries, Jardine (Worldly Goods, 1996) keeps her primary focus on London in the last few decades of the 17th century, when the Royal Society was in its glory. An exclusive club for the investigation of nature, it drew an incredible array of talents: Newton and Halley, Boyle and Wren, along with dozens of lesser-known scientists and curious amateurs like Pepys. Its meetings ran the gamut from science to showmanship, usually under the direction of Robert Hooke, who responded to scientific questions by building instruments to investigate them. And, as Jardine shows, there were plenty of oversized egos in the mix: After Hooke criticized his paper on optics, Newton stayed aloof from the Royal Society until after Hooke's death in 1704. John Flamsteed, the first Astronomer Royal, refused to publish his observations—and when Newton tricked him into letting some loose, won authorization to destroy the unsold portion of the print run. Here too are wonderful unknowns, from Hans Sloane, who introduced milk chocolate to Europe, to John Tradescant, who assembled a botanical garden so various that contemporaries dubbed it the "Ark." The author gives due emphasis to the work of continental investigators such as Huygens, Leeuwenhoek, and Cassini, and to the importance of voyages to exotic locales like St. Helena, South Africa, and the Americas in bringing new specimens back for Europe to study. She provides ample citations from contemporary sources and many contemporary illustrations to convey the flavor of the times, and has a good sense of when to give the reader a taste of the scandals, feuds, and scientific donnybrooks of the era. Well-written, unfailingly lively, and packed with fascinating characters—one of the best scientific histories in years.
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