Ingenious Pursuits: Building The Scientific Revolution

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Today the two cultures of "art" and "science" have come to be treated as fundamentally opposed, their aims incompatible. In this remarkable book, Lisa Jardine makes clear that this distinction is both artificial and historically inaccurate.

The intellectual revolution of the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries was the single most formative event in Western history, bringing together the humanities and natural sciences in an unprecedented ferment of conceptual and practical inventiveness. Isaac Newton was as fascinated with the chemical processes involved in the transmutation of metals as he was with the movements of the planets. John Locke was as keen a physician and botanist as he was a philosopher. Christopher Wren pursued anatomical dissections and early blood transfusion with the same vigor as he did architecture.

These men--among others--opened their minds to the widest possible influences, allowing for huge and brilliant leaps of imagination, for the ingenuity, quick-wittedness, lateral thinking, and inspired guesswork that we now associate with the humanities, not the sciences. But what unified their activities was a genius for technological innovation, for combining the workings of the hand and the brain in one continuous creative process. And it is this that marks the emergence of a distinctive, modern Western Intellectual Tradition.

Ingenious Pursuits focuses on a series of virtuoso advancements--among them the discovery of the circulation of blood, the perfection of the mechanical clock, enhanced astronomical observation, fundamental developments in mathematics, selective animal and plant breeding, and the development of chemical substance analysis--that transformed the thinking of the early modern world and inaugurated forces for change that laid the very foundations for modern thought.

Revisiting the largely unsung heroes of the Scientific Revolution and their crowded, motley lives, Jardine brilliantly illuminates the practice of science, showing how the discoveries they made grew out of the preoccupations and pressures of an active and engaged everyday life. Ingenious Pursuits is a broad-ranging and highly readable look at the very nature of creativity, at the impact of science on the emerging modern world, and the intellectual revolutions that still shape lives. Even Einstein had to eat. We seem to forget that scientists live in the same world as the rest of us, and that their work is informed by everything they encounter day to day. Lisa Jardine explores this interconnectedness in the context of the late 17th-century scientific revolution in Ingenious Pursuits, a well-planned journey back in time that delivers precious insight into the lives of those who laid the groundwork for cloning, nuclear weapons, and Internet commerce. Robert Hooke, Christopher Wren, and Gian Domenico Cassini are just a few of the multitalented explorers that Jardine profiles through diaries, letters, and scientific records. Taking the time to fully flesh out the lives of these adventurous spirits, she shows the reader that science began as a natural curiosity about the material world, inspired by diverse interests: art, religion, medicine, engineering, and more.

Political meddling in science is nothing new; even 300 years ago rulers competed for knowledge and the status that came from scientific achievement. Jardine expands on this premise to see the colonial expansion of the time as a driving force behind research, responsible for the contemporary explosions in cartography, botany, and optics. While Ingenious Pursuits stays for the most part in the 17th century, it does remind us of our own interwoven scientific and social threads, and that perhaps the next revolutionary breakthrough will come about as much because of telemarketers as National Science Foundation grants. --Rob Lightner


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