Even though books have not yet come off the printing press (as I like to imagine it) the roll-out of Eye of the Beholder has begun! The book received its first review: a prepublication Kirkus review. It’s very complimentary, and I particularly love the final line:
“Ingenious, lucid and revealing look at the lives of two brilliant men who changed our way of seeing the world.”
The next few months promise to be exciting—and nerve-racking. I look forward to sharing the journey with my readers.
My review of Sarah Dry’s The Newton Papers is in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal.
A Reputation in Constant Motion
It was claimed that Newton’s writings on alchemy and theology were products of mental derangement.
By LAURA J. SNYDER
The Newton Papers
By Sarah Dry Oxford, 238 pages, $29.95
In the 1940s, a visitor to the Sir Isaac Newton Library on the campus of the Babson Institute (now Babson College) in Wellesley, Mass., could find herself transported to the front parlor of the house on St. Martin’s Street in London where Newton had lived between 1710 and 1725. Grace Knight Babson, wife of the shrewd investor and millionaire Roger Babson, had purchased the room—including its original pine-paneled walls and carved mantelpiece—and brought the pieces to Massachusetts, where it was reassembled as a tribute to the man who had lived and worked within it.
Last month I chatted with Desiree Schell of the Science for the People syndicated radio show and podcast operating out of Edmonton, Alberta, and broadcasting throughout North America. It was fun to be immersed again in the nineteenth century for a while after working for the past couple of years on the seventeenth century. Talking about the four members of the philosophical breakfast club, I felt like I was catching up with old friends I hadn’t been in touch with for quite some time. It felt good. Sometimes I do miss the four men, especially Whewell and Jones—the two I would most like to have as dinner companions!
My chat with Desiree is now available for listening and/or downloading on the Science for the People website here. Thanks, Desiree, for having me on the program, and for allowing me to visit with these four remarkable men for a while!
Happy New Year, from the midst of a Nantucket blizzard, where I am working on revisions to my new book! With luck it will appear in late 2014 or early 2015. Stay tuned!
What a great way to start the new year: seeing that I landed on the 20 Most Popular Books of 2013 from Science Book a Day!
I was honored to be the first author interviewed by Science Book a Day’s George Aranda in May.
In April, the TED Talk I gave at TED Global in Edinburgh in June 2012 was put online at TED.com; it’s now been viewed over 650,000 times there, and 1.3 million over all venues!
It’s been an exciting year! And I’m looking forward to 2014! Hope it’s a great year for everyone.
My review of Jonathan Lyons’s book, The Society for Useful Knowledge has appeared in this weekend’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Subscribers can read the piece here.
A text-only version for non-subscribers:
September 6, 2013
Book Review: ‘The Society for Useful Knowledge’ by Jonathan Lyons
Benjamin Franklin did far more for science than simply fly a kite.
By LAURA J. SNYDER
Benjamin Franklin once led a party of merry picnickers who, with electrified gilt goblets, toasted the international community of scientists studying electricity. The group then slaughtered a turkey with an electrical charge and roasted it with electrical fire. Franklin observed: “Birds killed in this Manner eat uncommonly tender.” Franklin was one of the foremost “electricians” of his day, winning the prestigious Copley Medal of the Royal Society of London for his theoretical and practical accomplishments in the field. Connections between Franklin’s scientific work and his role in early American politics have been explored in a number of biographies and scholarly studies. In “The Society for Useful Knowledge,” Jonathan Lyons takes a provocative turn: He claims that Franklin’s notion of “useful knowledge”—gleaned from the charter of the Royal Society—spread throughout the colonies and “made possible the Revolution and . . . America’s characteristic political and economic systems.”
I recently sat for an interview (via Skype) with George Aranda of Science Book a Day, which featured The Philosophical Breakfast Club today. We chatted about PBC, my next book, how scientists can best communicate science to the general public, and what it was like to give a TED talk. You can view the interview on the Science Book a Day website (well worth checking out, by the way!) here or directly below. Read more
I somehow managed to miss this wonderful review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club that appeared last year, in the British magazine Endeavour:
“Snyder’s excellent book achieves the impossible. . . . All four of the main characters in her narrative are such dominant figures in the Victorian intellectual landscape that each of them would normally require…a substantial biography in their own right. Snyder manages to give the reader a deep look into the lives and intellectual achievements of all four in a scant 450 pages, a truly remarkable feat. Beyond this each of the protagonists was a polymath and together they cover a bewildering range of academic and semi-academic topics. . . . When dealing with these each of these topics, and the contributions that one or more of the quartet made, Snyder first gives a concise but extensive history of the subject at hand. Each of these potted histories is good enough to serve as an encyclopedia article on the topic dealt with, a second remarkable achievement.
The Philosophical Breakfast Club, and my recent TED Talk, were featured in Newsweek’s piece “Around the World in Six Ideas,” written by Christopher Dickey:
Before There Were Scientists
The word “scientist” was not coined until 1833. Before that, scientific disciplines were the domain of mostly wealthy men and women who called themselves “natural philosophers.” They might have had curiosity cabinets full of fossils, concoctions, and pickled bits of anatomy, but laboratories were few and far between. Then, oddly, the eccentric, opium-imbibing poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge challenged this use of the metaphysical-sounding word “philosopher.” The response, as in “artist” or “cellist,” was “scientist.” Laura Snyder tells this story in her fascinating book The Philosophical Breakfast Club about the way four geniuses at Cambridge University revolutionized modern science to create the many disciplines that exist under that rubric today. But there’s a downside, too, she said in a recent TED talk. Her 19th-century heroes would have been “deeply dismayed” by the way science has been “walled off” from the rest of today’s culture. She finds it “shocking” that only 28 percent of American adults can say (correctly) whether humans and dinosaurs inhabited Earth at the same time or how much of the planet is covered in water. The majority, it seems, either don’t know, don’t care, or think those are, well, metaphysical questions.