Read Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution by Lisa Jardine Free Online
Book Title: Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution|
The author of the book: Lisa Jardine
Edition: Nan A. Talese
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 27.34 MB
City - Country: No data
Date of issue: November 9th 1999
ISBN 13: 9780385493253
Loaded: 2613 times
Reader ratings: 5.8
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I came to this book via Richard Holmes' excellent "Age of Wonder". Holmes pointed out in his book that he was focusing on the "second generation" of science - the Romantic Generation, and steered the reader to Jardine's book to understand the "first generation" of science.
Consequently, I picked up Jardine's book as a complement to Holmes' and have thoroughly enjoyed it. Adding to my enjoyment was how it spurred memories of reading Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle - a series full of questionable history, but great fiction.
Jardine takes on a formidable task in presenting an account of the early days of the Scientific Revolution and I believe she would agree that no one book can possibly comprehend such a huge event. Hence, while her account is inevitably incomplete - it focuses primarily, but not exclusively - on developments in Britain, it serves as an excellent grounding in the types of *processes* that characterize the distinctive nature of science as opposed to the natural philosophy that preceded it.
(To more fully understand this difference, I would steer the reader towards Shapin and Schaffer's classic "Leviathan and the Air-Pump", which discusses the debate between Thomas Hobbes - who promoted the older natural philosophy - and Robert Boyle - who promoted the new science. In short, whereas Hobbes supported the role of reason alone in apprehending the world, Boyle supported the development of collaboration [the "republic of letters"], the use of scientific technology to probe natural phenomena, and the role of demonstration and consensus in defending "scientific truth".)
By the same token, Jardine is also interested in refuting - at least in pre-20th century terms - the "Two Cultures" thesis (from the famous 1959 Rede Lecture by C.P. Snow). Snow alleged that science and art had come to form two distinct cultures that had no overlap or communication. Richard Holmes in "Age of Wonder" demolished this assertion when it came to science as practiced by Humphry Davy, Joseph Banks, and others around the turn of the eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. Jardine undermines this thesis with respect to the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries (and Holmes admits that he was inspired by Jardine's work). Jardine demonstrates how science was just as much an art as it was about the gathering of facts and the finding of truth.
She also works to undermine the twentieth-century notion of scientists as "omniscient sage[s]" (page 355). Sociologists of science have since Kuhn have cast doubt on the practical (versus cultural) validity of this "godlike" notion of the scientist in the immediate past (see for instance "Disrupting Science" by Kelly Moore). Jardine shows how this notion does not hold up for the generation that formed the Royal Society either.
In short, this book serves as an excellent overview of early science - particularly British and French - in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries and is of value for interested lay and professional audiences including both historians and sociologists of science.
If I have any issue with this book it is that the book does lose focus in the later third. In particular the penultimate chapter - "Committed to Paper" - ends on a whimper and does not contain a satisfactory analytical conclusion. By contrast, the last chapter - "Epilogue" - makes an excellent start on comparing the early Royal Society with the double helix discovery of Watson and Crick. While I felt the "Epilogue" to be incomplete, I am not sure if the chapter itself should be lengthened. What I do think is that the book needed one more chapter just before the Epilogue summarizing what Jardine had accomplished in the book so far. Then she could have launched into the epilogue as it is and perhaps with an analysis even more on point.
I am not going to lambast Jardine overmuch here, namely because I know how hard it is to write a long work (although I have not yet written a book myself) and because I have read plenty of otherwise excellent histories that have lost focus near the end. This is an editorial problem, not an authorial problem.
I highly recommend this book to lay audiences interested in science as well as professionals. I think sociologists of science and technology (STS) in particular would gain great benefit from reading this book, which confirms many aspects of the STS literature but from a different origin.
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