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.
Published October 3, 2012
I can’t resist posting this new review from the blog “Not Raising Brats,” because I love that a reviewer pointed out the humor in the book. I laughed a lot while writing it, and it’s great to know that I wasn’t the only one who found the exploits of the philosophical breakfast club members kind of hilarious at times!! (The humor was especially important to me because of some difficult stuff I was going through while writing the book.)
Of course, I also love that the reviewer calls my book “excellent” and ends with: “I really loved this one”:
“EXCELLENT….I annoyed my husband to no end reading excerpts from this book. It’s just so interesting! And surprisingly funny! The club of the title refers to one created by four leading “philosophers” (ie scientists) at the turn of the 19th century. These guys coined the term “scientist.” They charted the tides and the stars and created the first computer. They also drank heavily in college and wrote sarcastic letters to each other. I really loved this one.”
You can see the review, and read others, here.
Published August 1, 2012
I was happy to see The Philosophical Breakfast Club featured in the summer edition of my undergraduate university’s magazine on their summer reading bookshelf. It’s right under the book by a terrific historian on the faculty, David Hackett Fischer! There’s a nice little paragraph on the book, which you can see here.
Published July 16, 2012
A nice new review from the website Astrobites. I love how it ends:
“One might have thought Victorian men of science would be impossibly staid and boring—a misconception that The Philosophical Breakfast Club will surely dislodge in short order. I struggled to put the book down.”
Published July 9, 2012
A wonderful new review by Judy King of Story Circle Book Reviews, a website devoted to reviews of books “by, for and about women.”
“In The Philosophical Breakfast Club, Laura J. Snyder has written a brilliant book. Pure and simple. It is the story of the birth of “the scientist,” both the term itself, and the concept of a professional person dedicated to the scientific study of a particular subject….The numerous accomplishments and contributions of the four men would be too many to list in a brief review of the book. Suffice to say that our world would bear no resemblance at all to what we are used to if they had not been so broadly engaged in the applications of science, as well as its study….A highly engaging study.”
You can read the full review here.
Published April 2, 2012
I’ve just checked in to The Philosophical Breakfast Club’s page on Amazon.com, and was happy to see that in the last couple of days I’ve received four new reviews–all five-star reviews. The titles of the reviews are great: “Brilliant Book!” “Intellectual Feast,” “Four Friends and How They Kickstarted Modern Science,” and the very sweet and succinct “Thank You So Much.” Once again, I am very grateful to readers who take the time to write reviews and post them up on the Amazon site and elsewhere. Thank you all! Read the reviews here.
The paperback has been selling very briskly—my publisher is thrilled! In fact, Amazon.com just ran out of their copies. But the book will be back in stock on April 6, and is still available at BN.com and, of course, your local independent bookseller.
Published March 28, 2012
I was happy to see that The Philosophical Breakfast Club made it onto the Washington Post “New in Paperback” column!
You can read the story here.
Published January 23, 2012
A wonderful review from CHOICE, the review magazine of the American Library Association:
“An impressive biography of four Victorian polymaths….The men’s entangled lives and work make engaging and informative reading. A valuable book….Highly recommended.”
The complete review:
Philosopher and science historian Snyder (St. John’s Univ.) has written an impressive biography of four Victorian polymaths: William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones. Their individual achievements are remarkable. Herschel made important contributions in astronomy, including mapping southern stars and discovering Uranus, and in photography. Babbage worked on a mechanical computer and its mathematics, and Jones authored books on economic theory and English government economic policy. Whewell made wide-ranging contributions in astronomical and mineralogical studies and educational reforms. He also wrote major philosophical works on the history and philosophy of the “inductive sciences,” integrating his theology and ethical notions into science (both he and Babbage contributed Bridgewater treatises on science and religion), and influenced Lyell, Maxwell, and Darwin in important ways. The collaborations of these remarkable men in economics, science, mathematics, and social policy, particularly their development of institutional reform–notably their formation of the British Association for the Advancement of Science–virtually created the “profession” of science with its institutions, curricula, norms, and methods. Whewell coined the term “scientist” and provided Faraday and others with terminology for their discoveries. The men’s entangled lives and work make engaging and informative reading. A valuable book for all undergraduate libraries. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All academic, professional, and general readers. Copyright 2011 American Library Association.
Published December 28, 2011
It was great to see this new review on the website of the Citizen Scientists League.
“A very accessible history of British science in the early nineteenth century….Snyder brings us from the early days of natural philosophy, which looked nothing like what we would call science today, to the verge of the modern era where the word scientist was well known, where scientists would actually get paid for doing science, where the government began supporting scientific inquiry and science was beginning to be taught as a separate topic at universities….This is a great book for anyone who is interested in the history of science.”
Read the full review here.
Published December 10, 2011
A review of the Italian edition of The Philosophical Breakfast Club has appeared in the November issue of RAS: Rassegna Dell’Autonomia Scholastica:
“It is a novel-like book that one reads with pleasure…with the desire to prolong the pleasure of following the lives of the four scientists involved.”
You can read the review here.