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Ingenious Pursuits: Building the Scientific Revolution





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About the book:

Where does curiosity stop and science begin? When is a gentleman's collection of curios a museum? What makes a navigational aid a scientific instrument?

Questions of this sort attempt to separate science out from the rest of life--and Lisa Jardine has no time for them. Her latest book is instead a meticulous and sympathetic re-imagination of the lives of early scientists in the late 17th century. It conjures up a curious and engaging image of buccaneering science, serving its own more abstract instincts by supplying vital research to industry and the military.

Jardine shows that science is a normal commercial activity, wedded inextricably to the pursuit of profit and military advantage. Our modern idea of it as an objective, pure and even spiritual exercise--and our disappointment and anger when scientists turn out to have paymasters we do not like--is the product of a very modern habit of putting science on a pedestal.

While these topical issues inform Ingenious Pursuits, the book stays very much in its period. It is richly illustrated throughout, offering the reader a rare chance to acquire the feel and fascination of doing early science. But it is the individual stories that entice most--the founder of the British Museum collection whose fortune was founded on "medicinal" milk chocolate; Hooke and Wren's scheme to fashion out of a London rebuilt after the Great Fire a great laboratory, stocked with monumental telescopes.

The heroes and heroines of Jardine's story are engaged, business-like entrepreneurs, not white- coated supermen, and, Jardine assures us, the same is true today. How strange that we forgot it. --Simon Ings

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