A simple, delightful book on the Royal Society of London, its members, and accomplishments.
As respected historian Tinniswood (History/Univ. of Buckingham; Behind the Throne: A Domestic History of the British Royal Household, 2018, etc.) recounts, in 1660, a group of friends from Wadham College Oxford met with other academics at Gresham College, London, to form a society fostering experimentation and observation rather than merely refining existing Aristotelian and Ptolemaic thought. By 1662, they were called the Royal Society, with a charter from the king. The Silver Mace presented to the group by Charles II still is exhibited at each meeting. The makeup of the society included physicians, professors of mathematics, physics, and natural philosophy, and some members of the aristocracy (in order to ensure not only proximity to power, but the hope of financial help). The society received its charter thanks to Sir Robert Moray, but it was Robert Hooke, as curator of monthly experiments, who kept the group in the vanguard of experimentation. Just a few of those exhibitions included demonstrations about poison, respiration, and blood transfusions. In 1665, Henry Oldenburg produced the first edition of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, a first-of-its-kind scientific journal that provided a public forum for an international culture of knowledge exchange that continues today. The society’s repository was eventually combined with the holdings of Sir Hans Sloane to form the basis of the British Museum. Its most important move was sending botanist Joseph Banks, who became the longest-serving president of the society, on the expedition to record the transit of Venus in 1768, a voyage led by James Cook. For more than 350 years, the society has been an independent voice in the scientific community devoid of vested interests and the influence of government, private parties, and universities. Tinniswood’s writing is scientifically clear, organized, and crisp, making this short book a wealth of information as well as a pleasant read.
A welcome, concise addition to the literature on the history of science.