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The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder - Excerpt

The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder - Excerpt

Ratings:

4.13

(19)
|Views: 2,610 |Likes:
The Philosophical Breakfast Club recounts the life and work of four men who met as students at Cambridge University: Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones. Recognizing that they shared a love of science (as well as good food and drink) they began to meet on Sunday mornings to talk about the state of science in Britain and the world at large. Inspired by the great 17th century scientific reformer and political figure Francis Bacon—another former student of Cambridge—the Philosophical Breakfast Club plotted to bring about a new scientific revolution. And to a remarkable extent, they succeeded, even in ways they never intended.

Historian of science and philosopher Laura J. Snyder exposes the political passions, religious impulses, friendships, rivalries, and love of knowledge—and power—that drove these extraordinary men. Whewell (who not only invented the word “scientist,” but also founded the fields of crystallography, mathematical economics, and the science of tides), Babbage (a mathematical genius who invented the modern computer), Herschel (who mapped the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and contributed to the invention of photography), and Jones (a curate who shaped the science of economics) were at the vanguard of the modernization of science.

This absorbing narrative of people, science and ideas chronicles the intellectual revolution inaugurated by these men, one that continues to mold our understanding of the world around us and of our place within it. Drawing upon the voluminous correspondence between the four men over the fifty years of their work, Laura J. Snyder shows how friendship worked to spur the men on to greater accomplishments, and how it enabled them to transform science and help create the modern world.

To read more about The Philosophical Breakfast Club or Laura J. Snyder please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.
The Philosophical Breakfast Club recounts the life and work of four men who met as students at Cambridge University: Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones. Recognizing that they shared a love of science (as well as good food and drink) they began to meet on Sunday mornings to talk about the state of science in Britain and the world at large. Inspired by the great 17th century scientific reformer and political figure Francis Bacon—another former student of Cambridge—the Philosophical Breakfast Club plotted to bring about a new scientific revolution. And to a remarkable extent, they succeeded, even in ways they never intended.

Historian of science and philosopher Laura J. Snyder exposes the political passions, religious impulses, friendships, rivalries, and love of knowledge—and power—that drove these extraordinary men. Whewell (who not only invented the word “scientist,” but also founded the fields of crystallography, mathematical economics, and the science of tides), Babbage (a mathematical genius who invented the modern computer), Herschel (who mapped the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and contributed to the invention of photography), and Jones (a curate who shaped the science of economics) were at the vanguard of the modernization of science.

This absorbing narrative of people, science and ideas chronicles the intellectual revolution inaugurated by these men, one that continues to mold our understanding of the world around us and of our place within it. Drawing upon the voluminous correspondence between the four men over the fifty years of their work, Laura J. Snyder shows how friendship worked to spur the men on to greater accomplishments, and how it enabled them to transform science and help create the modern world.

To read more about The Philosophical Breakfast Club or Laura J. Snyder please visit Crown Publishing Group at www.crownpublishing.com.

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Publish date: Feb 22, 2011
Added to Scribd: Jan 12, 2011
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved

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08/21/2013

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Copyright © 2011 by Laura J. Snyder
Copyright © 2011 by Laura J. Snyder
All rights reserved.
 All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the
Published in the United States by Broadway Books, an imprint of the
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
www.crownpublishing.com
 www.crownpublishing.com
BROADWAY BOOKS and the Broadway Books colophon are
BROADWAY BOOKS and the Broadway Books colophon are
trademarks of Random House, Inc.
trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Snyder, Laura J.
Snyder, Laura J.
The philosophical breakfast club: four remarkable friends who
The philosophical breakfast club: four remarkable friends who
transformed science and changed the world / Laura Snyder. —1st ed.
transformed science and changed the world / Laura Snyder. —1st ed.
p. cm.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references.
Includes bibliographical references.
1. Scientists—Great Britain—Intellectual life—19th century.
1. Scientists—Great Britain—Intellectual life—19th century.
2. Science—Philosophy. 3. Scientists—Great Britain—Biography.
2. Science—Philosophy. 3. Scientists—Great Britain—Biography.
I. Title.
I. Title.
Q141.S5635 2010
Q141.S5635 2010
509.2
509.2
'
'
241—dc22 2010025790
241—dc22 2010025790
ISBN 978-0-7679-3048-2
ISBN 978-0-7679-3048-2
eISBN 978-0-307-71617-0
eISBN 978-0-307-71617-0
Printed in the United States of America
Printed in the United States of America
Book design by Lauren Dong
Book design by Lauren Dong 
Title page art: from
Title page art: from 
A History of the University of Cambridge
 A History of the University of Cambridge
 by William Combe (London: for Rudolph Ackermann, 1815)
by William Combe (London: for Rudolph Ackermann, 1815) 
Jacket design by Evan Gaffney
 Jacket design by Evan Gaffney 
Jacket photographs: background image: Elizabeth Whiting & Associates;
 Jacket photographs: background image: Elizabeth Whiting & Associates; 
portraits of Whewell, Herschel, Babbage: Mary Evans Picture Library
 portraits of Whewell, Herschel, Babbage: Mary Evans Picture Library 
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wbc3_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I only gave this book 3.5 stars because it took me a long time to finish and because it is probably of interest to only a limited audience. That said, however, I found it very enjoyable. It is a book about four college friends—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones. They decided, in the way that college students often do, to change the world. Their world was the world of science, though in the 1800s, the scientific world was very different than today. They started by changing the notational system of calculus from the obscure English system of Newton to the French system we use today. You can imagine how hard it was to make that change at the university where Newton had been a professor! They went on to define how science would be conducted throughout England and the whole world. They influenced the next generation of scientists like Charles Darwin and their influence really extends to science today. I had only heard of Charles Babbage before reading this book because of his work on computers before there really were computers. He turned out to be the least interesting of the four and the biggest jerk. While Babbage arguably invented the computer, the others made major contributions to fields as varied as astronomy, geology, economics, and mathematics. They also did things as different as serving in government, coining the word “scientist”, heading a major university (Cambridge), translating Greek poetry, and pastoring a church. They were indeed a group of college friends who changed the world.
eheinlen_1 reviewed this
Rated 5/5
This book is just brilliant! Not only is it exceptionally well-written, but it is also a wonderful historical narrative on the history of "scientist" and the field surrounding it. It's amazing how much a person or a small group of people can change the course of history. I highly recommend this book.
gconyers_1 reviewed this
Rated 4/5
SummaryThe Philosophical Breakfast Club is a very good history of science book. It is a story about 4 men, William Whewell, John Hershel, Richard Jones, and Charles Babbage, who strived to take science from a field that was merely poked about in to a real professional endeavour. This book outlines their efforts and the culture of the world they lived in, as well as the the scientific accomplishments of the day.Critical AssessmentWhile this is a history book, and it's topic is science, it is not dull or boring. If you're making coffee while reading this book, it is because you want to keep reading long after the sun has set and risen again. Yes, it took me a long time to read this book, but it was because I wanted to read every single word.All in all, this has a very good account of Whewell, Hershel, and Babbage. Jones seems to be rather unimportant to the general scheme of thing since he is only focused on in a noticeably smaller quantity. This is also a great resource for learning about the culture of the Victorian Era that surrounds and influences the birth of science as a field.Final thoughtsWhile reading this book, I was struck by the fact that science has changed a lot over the life of humans in general. Near the end of the book the author notes that none of the members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club wanted there to be a separation of science and humanities that is present today. This shows that while these great men in the past have made great strides to increase the knowledge and presence of science and scientific thinking in the world, but there is still much to be done.
phoenixfalls reviewed this
Rated 4/5
I really enjoyed this volume, which serves as a sort of mosaic of science in England in the first two-thirds of the 19th century.Snyder makes four men -- William Whewell, Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones -- the center of her narrative, but does not trace their lives chronologically. Instead, after some brief biographical sketches that bring the reader to the point where the four men were together at Cambridge, she breaks her narrative up by their fields on interest, addressing in turn chemistry, computers, economics, astronomy, the tides, surveying, photography, cryptography, and evolution. She also addresses the development of the scientific method, the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Great Britain's 1851 Great Exhibition, and the conflict (or lack thereof) between the scientists' religious beliefs and scientific discoveries. In keeping with their own view of how science works, ever time she turned to a new field she placed the Club's efforts in context, providing historical background on the field and some anecdotes about the scientists who previously influenced the Breakfast Club and those who were influenced by the Breakfast Club in turn.That strategy is why I call the book a mosaic -- though Snyder keeps the lives and works of Whewell, Babbage, Herschel, and Jones central, the four men are merely entry points to the larger body of scientific exploration and codification in the 19th century England. Snyder does this admirably, capturing the excitement of the time period, when it seemed that all the secrets of the natural world were on the brink of being unlocked.I do have some quibbles. The book is rather myopic, conflating the sciences of England with all science worldwide. The final chapter is quite heavy-handed, with Snyder suddenly devolving into a rant against the separation between science and the humanities (a separation she simply assumes that her readers will agree exists). But overall this book was a great deal of fun: accessible, informative, and vibrant in its depictions of the mood of the age and the characters of the men who drove it.
michaelbartley reviewed this
Rated 4/5
a very good book about the history and philosophy of science. a group of men, now mainly forgotten took science to a modern profession. I liked this book a lot
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