What readers are saying about my books

Daily Beast

“Engaging . . . . Marvelous . . . . Poetic” — The Daily Beast

By Wendy Smith. Published in the Daily Beast, Oct. 20, 2017

I am honored to have received such a gorgeously written review by Wendy Smith in The Daily Beast, one that captures exactly what I wanted to accomplish with the book.  She starts by praising Eye of the Beholder for being “one of those engaging books that make you smarter without making you suffer,” and ends with “This poetic, inclusive approach to popular science writing makes Eye of the Beholder an unfailing pleasure to read.”

How Two Dutch Geniuses Taught Us to See

Vermeer the painter and Leeuwenhoek the scientist were contemporaries in 17th century Delft, where each man pioneered breakthroughs that upended conventional wisdom about reality.

Vermeer the painter and Leeuwenhoek the scientist were contemporaries in 17th century Delft, where each man pioneered breakthroughs that upended conventional wisdom about reality.
Eye of the Beholder: Johannes Vermeer, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing is one of those engaging books that makes you smarter without making you suffer. Laura J. Snyder’s scholarly yet accessible narrative offers refresher courses on the Scientific Revolution and the golden age of Dutch art, contextualized in a lively portrait of 17th-century Dutch society and personalized in the stories of two brilliant innovators who happened to live in the same bustling town.

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Daily Mail

“Portrait of an age of insatiable intellectual curiosity” — Daily Mail

By Laura Freeman. Published in the Daily Mail, Apr. 23, 2015

Eye of the Beholder has received this delightful review from the Daily Mail in the UK.  I love how the author captured the experimental exuberance of the age!

A quick autopsy my love, then off to the ball: The eccentric behaviour of Dutch natural scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and painter Johannes Vermeer

  • At 41 van Leeuwenhoek used his body as a guinea pig in an experiment
  • Vermeer spent hours peering into the box-like interior of a camera obscura 
  • Could Vermeer and van Leeuwenhoek have inspired each other’s work?

The behaviour of Dutch natural scientist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek was nothing if not eccentric. In 1677, at the age of 41, he embarked on an extraordinarily gruesome experiment, using his body as a guinea pig.

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Nature

“Revelatory” — Philip Ball, Nature

By Philip Ball. Published in Nature, Apr. 9, 2015

Science writer Philip Ball wrote a lovely essay for Nature connecting Eye of the Beholder with Galileo’s Telescope, another new book having to do with the use of optical instruments in the 17th century.  Ball writes “Snyder beautifully evokes the ambience of late-seventeenth-century Delft. . . . She is revelatory about Vermeer’s aims and methods, helping to explain what is so mesmeric about his work.”

I’m a big fan of Philip Ball’s writings, so his praise of my book is a real thrill.

Philip Ball examines two studies on how optical instruments taught science to see.

In the seventeenth century, scientists learnt how to see, discovering the astronomically large and the invisibly small. Both the telescope and the microscope had been invented, independently, by the first decades of the century, and Europe’s intelligentsia were astonished, amused and unnerved by what was revealed.

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Wall Street Journal

“Engaging and Richly Detailed” — Wall Street Journal

By Jonathan Lopez. Published in the Wall Street Journal, Mar. 27, 2015.

I was delighted to see this terrific (and lengthy) review of Eye of the Beholder in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal. I’m particularly pleased that the author, Jonathan Lopez, mentioned our colleague Walter Liedtke, whose recent tragic death was a blow to us all. And my son loved the reference to Leeuwenhoek as “the shambling, sighing, self-deprecating Columbo of 17th century science!”

Through a Glass, Brightly

Antoni van Leeuwenhoek and Johannes Vermeer were neighbors in Delft. Still, no one knows if they ever met.

In the 17th century, two men of genius resided within a stone’s throw of each other in the picturesque Dutch town of Delft. Antoni van Leeuwenhoek (1632-1723), a microscopist, initiated the discipline we now call microbiology when he discovered hitherto unseen organisms—protozoa and paramecia—in a sample of ordinary drinking water. His neighbor, the painter Johannes Vermeer (1632-75) created some of the most highly praised works in the history of art, including the “Girl With a Pearl Earring” (ca. 1665). As Laura J. Snyder recounts in “Eye of the Beholder,” an engaging and richly detailed work of interdisciplinary history, each of these visionaries honed his powers of observation by tinkering with optical lenses, a pastime then at the forefront of scientific progress. But what Van Leeuwenhoek and Vermeer seem never to have perceived, remarkably, was each other. Van Leeuwenhoek, a minor public official in Delft, was appointed executor of Vermeer’s estate after the painter’s death in 1675, a task he performed for a fixed fee as a perquisite of office. But there’s no indication he knew the artist in life.

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American Scholar

“Rich and Rewarding” — Graeme Wood, The American Scholar

By Graeme Wood. Published in The American Scholar, Mar. 4, 2015.

Two Dutch Visionaries

How the optical revolution revealed worlds large and small

On September 17, 1683, the Dutch biologist Antoni van Leeuwenhoek wrote one of the most scientifically important, and completely revolting, letters that London’s Royal Society ever received. He informed his colleagues that he had scraped from between his teeth “a little white matter, which is as thick as if ’twere batter,” and had observed it with a microscope. “In the said matter there were many very little living animalcules, very prettily a-moving.” These tiny creatures were the first observed bacteria, and their discovery revealed a world-within-a-world every bit as marvelous as revelations about the heavens.

The twin subjects of Laura J. Snyder’s new book are Leeuwenhoek and his equally astonishing contemporary, the painter Johannes Vermeer. Born on almost the same day in 1632, they worked most of their lives on the same acre of Delft, then a prosperous city at the height of the Dutch Golden Age. Leeuwenhoek even became the executor of Vermeer’s estate soon after the artist’s death in 1675. The two men’s proximity has long tantalized historians of art and science who have sought to link them as friends, collaborators, and co-conspirators. Snyder, too, suggests a connection, but in the end, the evidence linking them is circumstantial, and as she admits, the theory of their acquaintance ultimately speculative.

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“Ingenious, Lucid and Revealing” — Kirkus

Published in Kirkus Reviews, Dec. 7, 2014

EYE OF THE BEHOLDER Johannes Vermeer, Antoni Van Leeuwenhoek, and the Reinvention of Seeing

A fine addition to the burgeoning genre of dual biography of great figures whose lives were related, if often distantly.

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“Truly Remarkable” — Endeavour

I somehow managed to miss this wonderful review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club that appeared last year, in the British magazine Endeavour:

“Snyder’s excellent book achieves the impossible. . . . All four of the main characters in her narrative are such dominant figures in the Victorian intellectual landscape that each of them would normally require…a substantial biography in their own right. Snyder manages to give the reader a deep look into the lives and intellectual achievements of all four in a scant 450 pages, a truly remarkable feat. Beyond this each of the protagonists was a polymath and together they cover a bewildering range of academic and semi-academic topics. . . . When dealing with these each of these topics, and the contributions that one or more of the quartet made, Snyder first gives a concise but extensive history of the subject at hand. Each of these potted histories is good enough to serve as an encyclopedia article on the topic dealt with, a second remarkable achievement.

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“Fascinating” — Newsweek

The Philosophical Breakfast Club, and my recent TED Talk, were featured in Newsweek’s piece “Around the World in Six Ideas,” written by Christopher Dickey:

Before There Were Scientists

The word “scientist” was not coined until 1833. Before that, scientific disciplines were the domain of mostly wealthy men and women who called themselves “natural philosophers.” They might have had curiosity cabinets full of fossils, concoctions, and pickled bits of anatomy, but laboratories were few and far between. Then, oddly, the eccentric, opium-imbibing poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge challenged this use of the metaphysical-sounding word “philosopher.” The response, as in “artist” or “cellist,” was “scientist.” Laura Snyder tells this story in her fascinating book The Philosophical Breakfast Club about the way four geniuses at Cambridge University revolutionized modern science to create the many disciplines that exist under that rubric today. But there’s a downside, too, she said in a recent TED talk. Her 19th-century heroes would have been “deeply dismayed” by the way science has been “walled off” from the rest of today’s culture. She finds it “shocking” that only 28 percent of American adults can say (correctly) whether humans and dinosaurs inhabited Earth at the same time or how much of the planet is covered in water. The majority, it seems, either don’t know, don’t care, or think those are, well, metaphysical questions.

Oliver Sacks “Inspired” by “Philosophical Breakfast Club”

Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks

I’m incredibly pleased and excited that Oliver Sacks included The Philosophical Breakfast Club on a list of five science biographies that have inspired him.

Sacks is one of my favorite non-fiction writers, in part because he is able to connect wonderfully with a broad readership to interest them in, and educate them on, complex scientific issues related to neurology and psychology. He’s definitely one of the writers who inspires me, so it’s particularly wonderful to see my book on his list.

You can see the list here.

I can’t wait to read his new book, Hallucinations, out on Nov. 6!

“It’s So Interesting! And Surprisingly Funny!” — Not Raising Brats

I can’t resist posting this new review from the blog “Not Raising Brats,” because I love that a reviewer pointed out the humor in the book. I laughed a lot while writing it, and it’s great to know that I wasn’t the only one who found the exploits of the philosophical breakfast club members kind of hilarious at times!! (The humor was especially important to me because of some difficult stuff I was going through while writing the book.)

Of course, I also love that the reviewer calls my book “excellent” and ends with: “I really loved this one”:

“EXCELLENT….I annoyed my husband to no end reading excerpts from this book. It’s just so interesting! And surprisingly funny! The club of the title refers to one created by four leading ‘philosophers’ (ie scientists) at the turn of the 19th century. These guys coined the term ‘scientist.’ They charted the tides and the stars and created the first computer. They also drank heavily in college and wrote sarcastic letters to each other. I really loved this one.”

You can see the review, and read others, here.