Happy New Year!

Nantucket bizzard of New Year’s Day, 2014

Nantucket bizzard of New Year’s Day, 2014

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.

Cartoon of my TED Talk

Giulia Forsythe drew this amazing pictorial summary of my TED Talk at TED Global 2012 for an upcoming TEDx event (TEDxUSagrado):

Philosophical Breakfast Club by @LauraJSnyder #TEDxUSagrado #viznotes

I think it’s fabulous! Thank you, Giulia!

Review of Lyon’s “The Society for Useful Knowledge”

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.”

Read more

Interview with Science Book a Day

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

“Truly Remarkable” — Endeavour

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.

Read more

“Fascinating” — Newsweek

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.

Seven Groups of Friends who Changed the World

From yesterday’s TED blog, a fun piece on seven groups of writers/artists/philosophers who transformed their world—and ours.

TED Talk from TED Global 2012

Here’s the TED Talk on the Philosophical Breakfast Club I gave at TED Global 2012. Share!

TED Talk Online Friday!

TED Global 2012 Edinburgh

TED Global 2012 Edinburgh

I’m excited to announce that the video of the talk I gave at the TED Global conference in Edinburgh in June will be available for viewing on the TED website starting Friday morning, at 11 am ET.  I’ll post a link here when the video goes online!

Consilience and Scientific Confirmation

A nice piece on consilience is just out in Philosophy Now magazine.  Written by Toni Vogel Carey, the article highlights the different views of consilience held by Whewell/Herschel on the one hand and E.O. Wilson/Stephen Jay Gould on the other.  Definitely worth a look by anyone interested in scientific confirmation.