The little-known life of a gifted but cranky associate of Christopher Wren and bitter rival of Isaac Newton.
Jardine’s is the first full-scale portrait since 1956 of the cantankerous Hooke (1635–1703), a member of the Royal Society, co-restorer with Wren of London after the Great Fire of 1666, extraordinarily gifted inventor, designer, builder, artist, and scientist. The author begins with the most controversial of all of Hooke’s professional disputes, his argument with Newton about who should be credited for discovering the inverse square law of gravitational attraction. Hooke clearly had the insight, says Jardine (Renaissance Studies/Queen Mary Univ., London; On a Grander Scale, 2002, etc.), but not the mathematics to prove it, and so he wrote to Newton, who proved the theory and consequently soared into celebrity. Hooke gnashed his teeth publicly and privately for years afterward. The narrative then turns back to Hooke’s boyhood on the Isle of Wight, subsequently moving through his schooling in London and Oxford, his election to the Royal Society in 1663, and his incredibly busy career as an inventor, a presenter of weekly experiments for the edification of Society members, a professor of geometry at Gresham College, a writer, illustrator, experimenter—he enjoyed his tests with cannabis—and advocate for friends trying to publish their own works. Though he had a brief sexual relationship with a servant woman, Hooke never married and died miserably alone. Jardine carefully reconstructs her subject’s amazing career from diaries, correspondence, and public records. She most eloquently demonstrates that he and Wren should be jointly credited for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire and convinces as well that Hooke’s irascible temperament, his tendency to take on more work than he could possibly finish, and his unprepossessing looks have consigned him to his current position as the forgotten runner-up to his more celebrated coevals.
A terrific work, notable for its gravity and humor, scholarship and popular appeal. (Illustrations throughout)