9780809055401 / 0809055406

Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon


Publisher:Hill & Wang



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About the book:

For modern readers--especially those in the sciences who revere him as the father of the inductive method--Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is the model of an English Renaissance man whose towering intellectual achievements somewhat paradoxically set him floating above mundane historical particulars. British academics Lisa Jardine and Alan Stewart fling Bacon back into the hurly-burly of Elizabethan and Jacobean politics, where he unquestionably belongs. Indeed, their magnificently detailed rendering of Bacon's bumpy progression to the pinnacle of royal office-holding, as James I's lord chancellor (he was forced to "retire" in 1621 after a bribery scandal), makes his scientific and philosophical contributions even more remarkable. How on earth did he find time to write The Advancement of Learning (1605) and Novum Organum (1620) at all? In the authors' deliciously dense re-creation, notable for their shrewd evaluations of often misleading written source material, Bacon seems almost exclusively preoccupied with intriguing for promotion, struggling to pay debts incurred by his lavish lifestyle, and currying favor with both Elizabeth's and James's male favorites. (The latter tactic leading to contemporary charges of "sodomy" that the authors do not necessarily dismiss.) Some may regret that this warts-and-all portrait does not spend more time on Bacon's books, but Jardine and Stewart brilliantly succeed in their stated goal of providing "a rich context for those works." Seldom has a scholarly tome so palpably conveyed the gritty, sweaty, faction-ridden reality of being a working politician at the turn of the 17th century. --Wendy Smith

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