I was happy to see The Philosophical Breakfast Club featured in the summer edition of my undergraduate university’s magazine on their summer reading bookshelf. It’s right under the book by a terrific historian on the faculty, David Hackett Fischer! There’s a nice little paragraph on the book, which you can see here.
Every year, the Royal Institution of Australia (whose wonderful motto is: “Bringing Science to People and People to Science”) sponsor Australia’s “Great Big Science Read,” where people are encouraged to read books—both fiction and non-fiction—having to do with science. Last year, the RiAus held a poll to choose the public’s “Favorite Science Book”—and The Philosophical Breakfast Club was the winner!
The RiAus has just put out a short list of some books recommended by “Some of Australia’s leading scientists and the RiAus Book Club” as suggestions for this year’s Great Science Read. I’m so pleased to see The Philosophical Breakfast Club on that list, and look forward to hearing from some new Australian readers!
St. John’s University has posted a story—featuring some quotes from an interview with me—about my TED experience on the school’s website.
A very nice review of The Philosophical Breakfast Club just appeared in ISIS, the journal of the History of Science Society:
“The Philosophical Breakfast Club is a beautifully written and elegantly composed story. . . . [The book] presents a wonderful portrait of science and university life in the period—the trials and tribulations of trying to be a scientist before professionalization. It nicely evokes the broad interdisciplinary that was taken for granted then and is so rare now. Its contextualization of the first half of the nineteenth century in Britain is outstanding, and it is highly successful in showing the deep intertwining of culture and society with the club members’ work. . . .
“This book will be extremely useful for teaching, students, and interested laypeople. It would be an excellent text for a survey of modern science, a science and society class, or even a course on the history of Britain. . . .”
A nice new review from the website Astrobites. I love how it ends:
“One might have thought Victorian men of science would be impossibly staid and boring—a misconception that The Philosophical Breakfast Club will surely dislodge in short order. I struggled to put the book down.”
This article in the latest issue of the New Yorker gives a pretty balanced picture of the TED experience. It does leave out, though, something that struck me so strongly during the five days I spent at TED Global: the raw, unfettered intellectual curiosity of the attendees—who could, after all, spend their money and time on a vacation in Fiji, but who choose TED instead. As someone who has spent many years attending academic conferences, I have to say I have never experienced this kind of openness to ideas from all areas, from people with no particular axe to grind or their own intellectual agenda to promote.
One point the author makes is that ideas are presented apart from their academic connections and references to other works. Fair enough—these are short talks, after all. But what he doesn’t mention is the way that the experience encourages the connection between different disciplines and approaches—which may not otherwise have occurred to most of us. Even I was surprised to find that the talks in my session—by a historian and philosopher of science, an artist running the Rhode Island School of Design, a computational architect, a quantum physicist, a researcher photographing light, and a behavioral economist—all could be seen as having a common thread. (Hint: the way that different ways of representing reality, especially art and language, are related to scientific explorations of nature.) It was a heady experience, one I am still learning from.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, the folks at TED asked me to be one of eight “guest curators” of the TED bookstore. I put together a list of thematically-related books, and the books–along with my short descriptions of them–were featured on the bookshelves of the onsite bookstore. Here is my list of ten books, along with my “curation philosophy:”
Electricity and Water: Who says they don’t mix?
Throw in a dash of technology, engineering or science, and end up with a galvanising read.
Over the past few years, I’ve been reading and lecturing about the invention of modern science in nineteenth century Britain. Water—the power it generates, as well as the challenges it poses to an island nation—and electricity played crucial roles in England’s rise to scientific and imperial dominance in this period. On my bookshelf now are ten books—fiction and non-fiction—in which water, electricity, or both are central to the tales they tell.
1. Waterland, Graham Swift
Takes place in the Fen country of East Anglia, in bleak marshlands wrested from the sea—a sea that wants the land back. Spanning 240 years, the book weaves a tale of empire-building, sluice-minding, eel reproduction, brewing, incest and madness, adding up to a thoughtful reflection of the nature of history and memory. Both history and memory, like the sea, are fluid and ever-changing. A magical book.
2. Remarkable Creatures, Tracy Chevalier
On the shores of the beaches of Lyme-Regis, a young woman named Mary Anning distinguished herself in the early 19th century as a talented fossil-hunter, discovering the first complete skeletons of the ichthyosaurus and plesiosaur. Her discoveries cast doubt on the prevailing views about the age of the earth, helping to make Darwin’s theory of evolution possible. Chevalier does a fine job of fleshing out the lives of Anning and her main champion, Elizabeth Philpot (real people about whom we know little) and setting their story in the context of science and discovery in the nineteenth century. Read more
A wonderful new review by Judy King of Story Circle Book Reviews, a website devoted to reviews of books “by, for and about women.”
“In The Philosophical Breakfast Club, Laura J. Snyder has written a brilliant book. Pure and simple. It is the story of the birth of ‘the scientist,’ both the term itself, and the concept of a professional person dedicated to the scientific study of a particular subject. . . . The numerous accomplishments and contributions of the four men would be too many to list in a brief review of the book. Suffice to say that our world would bear no resemblance at all to what we are used to if they had not been so broadly engaged in the applications of science, as well as its study. . . . A highly engaging study.”
You can read the full review here.
I am in Amsterdam now, doing research for Eye of the Beholder, having traveled directly here after TED Global ended on Friday. I had thought I would blog throughout the meeting, but it was all so intense and non-stop that I preferred to just live it and reflect on it afterwards. Just a few thoughts now, and more later as they come to me.
It was a whirlwind of talks, social events, and chatting with new friends. Many of the talks I heard were mind-blowing in some way or another; I met a large group of amazing, intelligent, curious, and accomplished people; and the parties (and after-parties) were lavish!
By the time of my talk I was still nervous, but I had already seen that the audience is so receptive and eager to hear what the speakers have to say. As I climbed the stairs to the large stage after being introduced I felt so much positive energy washing over me. As I looked out at the huge audience I recognized many of my new friends, and saw how ready everyone was to hear my story about the philosophical breakfast club. It was so much fun to tell it, and the feedback afterwards was amazingly positive. What was thrilling was how fascinated this group of non-academics and non-historians were by the philosophical and historical story I wove for them.
You can see the description of my talk—and two photos of me while on the stage—on the TED blog here.
I’ll have more pictures soon, and—with luck—a video to share.