What readers are saying about my books

Barnes and Noble Featured Selection

The Philosophical Breakfast Club is featured in today’s Barnes and Noble Review:

“If, like me, you loved Jenny Uglow’s The Lunar Men or Richard Holmes’s The Age of Wonder, prepare yourself for the pleasure of further intellectual pursuit in this lively group biography of four men—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones—who met at Cambridge University and spurred each other on to pioneering achievements in crystallography, mathematics, computing, astronomy, and economics.”

See the feature here.

“Best in the genre” — Tyler Cowen

Economist Tyler Cowen has a nice notice of The Philosophical Breakfast Club on his website MarginalRevolution.com.

“This is an excellent book about the history and status of science in 19th century England. If you enjoy the history of science, this book stands a good chance of being the best one in that genre to come out this year.”

You can see the full comment here.

Cowen quotes an excerpt from part of the book in which I discuss the great French table-making project, the 18 volume Tables du Cadastre (the tables for the French Ordnance Survey) which was supervised in the 1790s by the mathematician and civil engineer the Baron de Prony. For this immense project De Prony, influenced by Adam Smith’s discussion of the division of labor in Wealth of Nations, saw that a division of intellectual labor could be useful. De Prony’s project was an influence on and inspiration to Charles Babbage, when he began to think of a calculating engine in the 1820s.

“A Great Weekend Read” — The Daily Beast

The Philosophical Breakfast Club was designated a “Great Weekend Read” by The Daily Beast. “Snyder weaves a compelling . . . tale of the transformation of science in the Victorian era. . . . She leaves the reader with an inspiring sense of just how influential these men were in shaping our world and laying the foundation for major science and technological changes.”

Read the full review here.

I especially love how the author of the review highlights the enduring importance of these men in three areas: the issue of public funding, the collection and calculation of vast data sets, and the question of the relation of the arts and the sciences. As the review ends: “With Snyder’s book the call to action is clear: bring the arts and the sciences back to the breakfast table and raise a mug of ale in memory of the four Victorian scientists who changed the world.”

Philosophical Breakfast Club featured in Nature

The Philosophical Breakfast Club appeared in the Books in Brief section of Nature, in the February 24th issue:

“Cambridge University has schooled many great scientists. Historian Laura Snyder explores the friendships between four men who met there in the 1810s: Charles Babbage, inventor of the computer, astronomer John Herschel, crystallographer William Whewell and economist Richard Jones. Inspired by their seventeenth-century forebears, including Francis Bacon, they founded a breakfast club, where they plotted to revolutionize science. Drawing on their correspondence, Snyder describes how they did just that.”

“The lives and ideas of these men come across as fit for ‘Masterpiece Theater.’” — Wall Street Journal

Today’s Wall Street Journal says, “Ms. Snyder…shows a full command of the scientific, social and cultural dimensions of the age. In Ms. Snyder’s telling, the lives and ideas of these men come across as fit for ‘Masterpiece Theater.’”

Read the full review here.

In the last lines of a very positive assessment of the book, the reviewer, a physicist, takes issue with two paragraphs in my Epilogue, where I suggest that as a result of the professionalization and specialization in the sciences brought about by the members of the philosophical breakfast club, there arose a greater divide between science and the rest of culture. I claim that scientists today are less able to “express that wonder [in the natural world] to others, even non-specialists” than people like Herschel and Whewell, who wrote important books about science aimed at a general literate audience, in addition to writing and translating poetry about nature.

That still seems obvious to me. Writers of successful popular books who are practicing professional scientists, like Brian Greene, are few and far between. I’d love to hear from other readers of the book on this topic!

Readers will “Leap for Joy” — The Daily

A review in The Daily, the new magazine for the iPad, says that “Geeks, scientists, intellectuals, boys between ages 10 and 16 and all combinations of the above will leap for joy at Laura J. Snyder’s book. . . . We owe this quartet a lot (photography and mathematical economics, to start) and Snyder does a lively job of explaining why.”

Read the full review here.

A story told “confidently, stylishly, engagingly” — The Star Ledger (New Jersey)

A fabulous review in today’s New Jersey Star-Ledger says that “Snyder engagingly stakes out an era beginning with science as a hobby of vicars and the wealthy to its evolution as the engine of imperial growth, in no small measure due to the efforts of four who made common cause at breakfast.”

Read the full review here.

“A Masterful Portrait” — New Scientist

A review in the February 12 issue of New Scientist calls The Philosophical Breakfast Club “a masterful portrait of nineteenth century science.”

The full-page review, written by Jonathon Keats, is titled Ham, tongue and Bacon (!).” As the title suggests, the reviewer was struck by the fact that at their breakfast meetings the men discussed Francis Bacon’s work and then spent their careers pursuing Bacon’s directive.”

I was so pleased that the author ended the review by agreeing with my claim in the epilogue of the book that there would be justice in looking back at the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club for guidance on how to knit the sciences and humanities back together again.”

Keats writes, [Snyder] is right, and . . . the boundless curiosity the four shared throughout their lives—about absolutely everything—is surely a beginning.”

Read the complete review here.