Monday, February 21, 2011

A Review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder

The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World
4 out of 5: The Philosophical Breakfast Club is a comprehensive history of the beginnings of modern science told from the alternating perspectives of four Cambridge students. In the early 1800s, William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones met at Cambridge and instituted regular discussions over breakfast where they committed to work for scientific progress and the greater public recognition of scientists. During the momentous lifetimes of these four men, a man of science went from “a country parson collecting beetles in his spare hours” to “a member of a professional class … pursuing a common activity within a certain institutional framework ….”

The Philosophical Breakfast Club covers, in great detail, Babbage’s invention of the first computer, Herschel’s book introducing Francis Bacon’s scientific method to the general public, Whewell’s universal theory of tides, Jones’s economic theories, and many other important scientific breakthroughs. The chapter describing Herschel’s 4-year stint in the Cape Colony of southern Africa mapping the stars of the southern hemisphere is a particularly nice set piece. Snyder’s clear, simple prose brings complex topics within reach of a lay audience, but the book occasionally gives more detail than the non-scientific reader will have patience for. Overall, The Philosophical Breakfast Club is an engaging and accessible history of modern science.

1 comment:

Zibilee said...

If you hadn't said that this book was accessible and dealt with it's material in a lucid way, I don't think I would have ever even considered it. Thanks for opening my eyes to a new book, and great review, by the way!