WONDERS AND THE ORDER OF NATURE, 1150-1750 by Lorraine Daston

WONDERS AND THE ORDER OF NATURE, 1150-1750

KIRKUS REVIEW

 Historians of science Daston (Harvard) and Park's (Max Planck Inst.) sweeping investigation into the place of wonder and wonders in natural philosophy and history--from the High Middle Ages to the Enlightenment--is dense with erudition and pleasingly light on its scholarly feet. The era covered here starts with the gathering abundance of travel narratives and bestiaries and lapidaries, and goes through the ontological gerrymanderings of Bacon, Newton, and Descartes. It was during the 12th century, Daston and Park make abundantly clear, when early travel narratives and encyclopedias spread the word of strange and wondrous things to be found in the outlands, that unfamiliar objects and counterintuitive phenomena--visceral and vertiginous--began to hover at the edge of scientific inquiry, defining borders, goading further study. And for the next six centuries, except for a few moments of ridicule and rejection, wonders were embraced by natural philosophers and historians as sources of pleasure and delight, as wellsprings for curiosity; treasured by royalty and the court as unmediated contacts with another world, possession of which meant one was noble and cultivated, as rare and marvelous as the objects themselves. The authors situate wonders in the circular mental map of medieval geography, which had the wildest of the wilds at the margins and the Mediterranean at the center. They also detail the contexts that set the tone for the reception wonders had from the powers that were--the court, the Christian religious orders, the universities. That reception modulated between adulation and disdain as first rational explanation and then the search for universals, regularity, and causal knowledge took hold in a world that now took its cues from the secular and the empirical. An informed and original look at the role of wonder during a time when there was a whole lot to wonder about. (114 b&w illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: April 16th, 1998
ISBN: 0-942299-90-6
Page count: 512pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1998




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