A colorful, detailed history of scientific passions and the hunger for knowledge.



The story of a 19th-century scientific society that exerted wide-ranging influence throughout Britain and beyond.

In 1819, naturalists Adam Sedgwick, newly appointed professor of geology at Cambridge, and his friend John Stevens Henslow, a recent graduate, proposed to establish a scientific society for Cambridge, a place where “gentlemen of science” could share their research. As Gibson (History and Philosophy of Science/Univ. of Cambridge; Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?: How Eighteenth-Century Science Disrupted the Natural Order, 2015) reveals in a vivid, deeply researched intellectual history, the Cambridge Philosophical Society changed both the university and the larger scientific community. At the time the society was founded, Cambridge “was an intellectually cautious place” devoted to teaching the classics, the Bible, and the mathematics of Isaac Newton. Yet science was burgeoning, and the society was one among many that arose across Britain in the late 18th and early 19th century. Some were specialized (focused, for example, on astronomy or mineralogy), others intended as gatherings for the scientific elite. The society was unique because of its connection to the university, which both supported its efforts and allowed for its reach beyond the confines of its meeting rooms. Since its original members were members of the university, their own research and the ideas they gleaned at forums—letters from Charles Darwin from his trip on the Beagle, for example—made their ways into undergraduate teaching. Its two enthusiastic founders saw the society as “a place where things got done: if Cambridge lacked a decent scientific library, they would assemble one; if the town didn’t have a natural history museum, they would create one; if the press failed to produce a natural philosophical journal, they would write one themselves.” All these resources shaped Cambridge curriculum, which by the 1850s allowed students to be examined for a degree in the Natural Sciences. Over the years, students increasingly took up that option, and the university attracted major scientists—Niels Bohr, J.J. Thomson, Ernest Rutherford, among others—from all over the world.

A colorful, detailed history of scientific passions and the hunger for knowledge.

Pub Date: May 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-19-883337-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...


Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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