The Royal Society and the Invention of Modern Science

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On November 28, 1660, the young astronomy professor Christopher Wren, today famed for the architectural splendor of St Paul’s Cathedral and several other London churches, met with eleven colleagues to establish a unique institution. The Royal Society, unprecedented in its mission and scope, would carry out experiments in the natural sciences and share the findings and discoveries with their fellow men (and much later women) rather than conceal their steps of progress. This was in keeping with their motto, which remains to this day: Nullius in Verba – take no one’s word for it! Although one cynic was to proclaim later, “The day begins no sooner, nor stays any longer with Ptolemy than with Copernicus,” the Society forged ahead, defying age-old beliefs of change and immutability.

In a saga with the potential of being ponderous and dull, Adrian Tinniswood has written a lively and at times humorous account of the Royal Society’s history. Those unfamiliar with British academics, nobility, and royalty of the past may leave unchallenged the names of the original Fellows and focus on recognizing the progress of science. The pages describe such courageous innovations as the 1667 transfusion of blood from a sheep to a man’s arm with no ill effects, and a letter from the Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek “concerning worms pretended to be taken from the teeth.” Now, the Society addresses concerns of widespread public value, like embryo research and climate change, relaying findings both in meetings and Society publications, some that were launched centuries ago.

The three Charters granted by King Charles XI, written in Latin, bestowed status and gravitas comparable and then far more significant than the contemporary American blessing, the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.

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Author Adrian Tinniswood
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 240 pages
Publisher Basic Books
Publish Date 2019-06-04
ISBN 9781541673588
Amazon Buy this Book
Issue October 2019
Category Science & Nature


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