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English scientist Robert Hooke (1635-1703) is known to history more for losing quarrels with better-known scientists than for his achievements. He dared challenge Newton for credit as discoverer of the inverse-square law of gravitational attraction and lost. In his dispute with Dutch scientist Christaan Huygens over who invented the isochronous pendulum clock, Hooke fared slightly better, since it was discovered that unfriendly members of the fledging Royal Society were slipping word of his discoveries to Huygens. Cambridge Renaissance scholar Jardine follows up her 2002 biography of Christopher Wren with this satisfying rehabilitation of Hooke, Wren's colleague in rebuilding London after the devastating fire of 1666. Jardine argues that Hooke played an equal role in many of the projects attributed to Wren, most notably the dome of Saint Paul's and the Monument to the Fire of London. Hooke never made the leap into greatness by adequately working out and proving his "hunches," in large part because of other scientists' demands on his time. As a young man, he was Robert Boyle's trusted assistant. At the Royal Society, which he helped found, he served as curator of experiments and secretary. After the fire he was forced to juggle society members' increasingly unreasonable demands with his work as surveyor and associate to Wren. Hooke grew ill-tempered in his later years and was finally removed from his Royal Society posts. Jardine convincingly attributes his physical deterioration to decades of self-medicating and overwork. Sure to become the standard life of Hooke, Jardine's sympathetic study will please readers interested in the early years of modern science and scientific biographies. Illus.
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Because victors write history, Newton looms large in the chronicles of Western science while the contentious hunchback who once challenged him for primacy survives as a mere footnote. In this lucid biography, Jardine acknowledges that Hooke erred in attacking Newton, but she refuses to let Hooke's contentiousness eclipse his considerable contributions to British culture. Highlighting the obstacles facing a fatherless boy from a family of ruined fortunes, Jardine chronicles Hooke's plucky rise as a maker of precision scientific instruments, a keen-eyed illustrator, and a geometrically acute architect and surveyor. Readers see a remarkable man parlay diverse gifts into a career that included serving as lead surveyor of London after the Great Fire of 1666, collaborating with Wren on landmark architectural projects, and creating Micrographia, a sensationally illustrated work of microscopic research. But Jardine also discerns pathos in the career of a man who pursued so many disciplines that he finally frustrated his own ambition to join Copernicus, Kepler, and, yes, Newton in the pantheon of theoretical scientists. A remarkably coherent portrait of a kaleidoscopic figure. Bryce Christensen
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