Hundreds of years ago (which is inconsequential in the cosmic or even geologic timeline), a collection of Londoners formed the Royal Society and started practicing what became known as science.

Science was destined to remake the world, but in its early days it inspired laughter more often than reverence.

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In those early years, members of the Royal Society—Issac Newton included — would invent calculus, discover planetary bodies, practice modern chemistry, and put into place the scientific peer-review system that we still use today. Of course, these scientists were just as likely to “discover” that blowing excrement into ones eyeballs would cure cataracts or that a transfusion of sheep’s blood would cure mental illness.

From this mixture of hogwash and brilliance, and against a backdrop of 17th century London’s god-fearing filth and disease, the foundations of science were established.

Why is this on our bookshelf?

It’s hard to resist a book that says, on the cover, “Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World.” Newton was the genius who discovered gravitational attraction. The Royal Society was, and still is, a collection of geniuses that have invented and discovered all sorts of things. Even the cover, for which one cannot help but judge, even just a little, has hints of steampunk.

Little did I know how strongly I would end up recommending this book to anyone who fancies science, mathematics, physics, steampunk, or history.

Rating (5 stars)

As author Edward Dolnick himself wrote, scientists tend to discard and ignore the follies of past researchers, except for amusement, while plucking out the best parts. In fact, Dolnick could have done that in The Clockwork Universe. Instead, he artfully describes and explains the bed which bore science– Seventeenth century London: a city of plague, filth, disease, fire, soot, and a home to an absolutely god-fearing culture.

Never before have I heard of the origin of science, the “birth of the modern world” as Dolnick writes, put onto paper in quite this way. Beyond the history, though, Dolnick’s presentation of the conceptual and mathematical problems that calculus would solve is both fascinating and inspiring.

Much like members of the Royal Society changed mankind’s understanding of the world, The Clockwork Universe has changed my understanding of science itself.