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Review of Dry’s “The Newton Papers”

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.

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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.”

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Review of Berlinski’s “The King of Infinite Space”

 

Euclid

Euclid

My review of David Berlinski’s The King of Infinite Space: Euclid and His Elements will be in this weekend’s edition of The Wall Street Journal. Just in time for the Oscars, there’s even a movie tie-in:

“One of the more curious historical revelations of Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” is that America’s 16th president was obsessed by a Greek mathematician from the fourth century B.C. While traveling from town to town as a young lawyer riding the Eighth Circuit in Illinois, Abraham Lincoln kept a copy of Euclid’s geometrical treatise, “The Elements,” in his saddlebag; his law partner Billy Herndon related that at night Lincoln would lie on the floor reading it by lamplight. Lincoln said he was moved to studyEuclid by his desire to understand what a “demonstration” was, and how it differed from any other kind of argument.”

The entire review can be read here.

 

Review of Three Books on the Birth of Modern Science

Athanasius Kircher’s ‘Mundus Subterraneous’ (1665), shows earth’s ‘central fire’ and underground canals

Athanasius Kircher’s ‘Mundus Subterraneous’ (1665), shows earth’s ‘central fire’ and underground canals

Happy 2013, everyone!

To start off the new year, here’s my latest for the Wall Street Journal: a review of three books that locate the origins of modern scientific practice where we may least expect it—in monks’s cells, magicians’ workshops, and alchemists’ hidden laboratories. Read the review here and in tomorrow’s print edition.

The books are: John Freely’s Before Galileo, John Glassie’s A Man of Misconceptions, and Lawrence Principe’s The Secrets of Alchemy.

Gift Guide: Science Books

My picks for holiday books about science appeared in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. You can see which 2012 releases I suggest for gift giving here.

Review of Arianrhod’s “Seduced by Logic”

My newest review for the Wall Street Journal is out in today’s issue. To see what I had to say about Robyn Arianrhod’s Seduced by Logic: Emilie du Chatelet, Mary Somerville, and the Newtonian Revolution, see here.

Watch out on Saturday for my contribution to the Wall Street Journal’s annual Book Gift Guide. And, coming in December, a longer essay on the birth of modern science in the 17th century.

Philosophical Breakfasts, Lunches, Dinners . . . and More

 

TED Global 2012 Edinburgh

TED Global 2012 Edinburgh

After I returned from TED Global this summer, I was asked to contribute a piece about my experiences at TED by the magazine Design Mind. It has just come out, and can be read here.

 

Review of Crease’s “World in the Balance”

A review I wrote of Robert P. Crease’s new book, World in the Balance, has appeared in today’s Wall Street Journal.

A brief excerpt from the beginning of the review:

“The non-scientific mind has the most ridiculous ideas of the precision of laboratory work, and would be much surprised to learn that . . . the bulk of it does not exceed the precision of an upholsterer who comes to measure a window for a pair of curtains.” So wrote the American philosopher and scientist Charles S. Peirce (1839–1914).

Peirce may have been giving the general public more credit than he intended; most people don’t think much about the precision of scientific measurements, let alone question where the standards of measurement have come from in the past or where they are headed today. These topics are addressed by Robert P. Crease’s educational and often entertaining book, World in the Balance. While some readers might be put off by the episodic and occasionally repetitive structure of the book—belying its origin as the author’s columns for Physics World—those who are not will be amply rewarded with a sweeping survey of the history of measurement and the search for universal and absolute standards, from ancient China up to practically yesterday.

The full review can be read here.

Science as a Social Activity

A blog post I wrote, ‘Science as a Social Activity,’ for the Royal Institution of Australia, in advance of their book club discussion of The Philosophical Breakfast Club on November 16, is now up on their website, here.

I’m pleased they are offering the opportunity to send in questions for me, which I will be answering during an interview we will be conducting by video in the next few weeks, and which will be played during the book club meeting. More details on that to follow!