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"Knowledge is Power" - Sir Francis Bacon

  • Dec 4, 2010

In 1833 The British Association for the Advancement of Science met, 852  members attending. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge rose and took the meeting to task for the ungentlemanly kind of work that British so called "men of science" or "savants" were now doing. They grubbed in pits for fossils.They played with electricity. They got their hands dirty. They had lost the right to call themselves "natural philosophers." On the spot a new word was proposed: "scientist." The proposer was 30-something William Whewell, Professor of Mineralogy of Trinity College, Cambridge. It was another 40 years before the new word caught on and in the USA before in stodgy Britain.


Professor Laura Snyder tells the story of Whewell, the son of a carpenter, and three of his like-minded friends in THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB: FOUR REMARKABLE FRIENDS WHO TRANSFORMED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD. The other three were Charles Babbage, inventor of the first computer, astronomer William Herschel and mathematician RIchard Jones. All were students together at Cambridge University. After they graduated and had begun to publish, these four friends between 1820 and 1870 made the practice of science more precise, more mathematical, more inductive, less a priori deductive and more in the service of humanity. This program they had determined to do during a very few Sunday morning meetings after chapel in 1812 -1813 in the St. John's College rooms of William Herschel. With a few others they formed the short-lived but fruitful Philosophical Breakfast Club. Each week a different topic was discussed. But the driving force was Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626). Bacon said, "Knowlege is power." And he meant the power to subject nature to the control of men in a mental structure that Bacon called "Solomon's House." The four friends and their allies vowed to update Bacon's agenda and revolutionize the world of science. And they did. 


Author Snyder tells their individual stories and how the four lives, marriages, cooperative projects and much besides interlocked one with another. Each man was a creative genius impacting a United Kingdom and a France and Germany running over with genius. Laura Snyder uses these four lives to frame colossal scientific advances in a score of areas, including  optics, telescopes, astronomy, economics, mathematics, electro-magnetism. measurement of the tides, the first computers and the birth of artificial intelligence. Mapping of land masses, codes and ciphers, natural theology, Darwin and the origin of species, even music: nothing that could be known by men or, increasingly, women of genius, was foreign to the program of the Philosophical Breakfast Club in their desire to bring old Cambridge scholar Francis Bacon back to life. Fossils, minerals, sun spots, new moons and planets, nebulae, ethics: all were grist for their mill. This was also the age of steam engines, power looms, ironclad ships, steamboats, railroads, of Napoleon, Czars and empire-building.


THE PHILOSOPHICAL BREAKFAST CLUB is a thorough-going work of careful historical and scientific scholarship. It is also popular, clearly written, fast paced and pleasant reading. Judge for yourselves!



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(Thomas) Patrick Killough ()
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I am a retired American diplomat. Married for 47 years. My wife Mary (PhD in German and Linguistics) and I have two sons, six grandsons and two granddaughters. Our home is Highland Farms Retirement Community … more
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The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World is a 2010 book by St John's University specialist in history and philosophy of science Laura J. Snyder.  She writes about how four friends modernized the ideas of Sir Francis Bacon and made science practical

"It is too easy to think that ‘science’ is what happens now, that modernity and scientific thought are inseparable. Yet as Laura Snyder so brilliantly shows in this riveting picture of the first heroic age, the nineteenth century saw the invention of the computer, of electrical impulses, the harnessing of the power of steam – the birth of railways, statistics and technology. In ‘The Philosophical Breakfast Club’ she draws an endearing – almost domestic – picture of four scientific titans, and shows how – through their very ‘clubbability’ – they created the scientific basis on which the modern world stands." – Judith Flanders, author of Inside the Victorian Home

"The four busy geniuses who inhabit Laura Snyder’s wonderfully engaging book did not invent friendship or science, but by combining those pastimes in their "philosophical breakfasts," they managed to invent much else, from the very word "scientist" to versions of the computer and the camera." -- Joyce E. Chaplin, James Duncan Phillips Professor of History, Harvard University

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Books, Sir Francis Bacon, Laura J Snyder


ISBN-10: 0767930487
ISBN-13: 978-0767930482
Author: Laura J. Snyder
Publisher: Broadway

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