Sunday, July 6, 2014

Ball, 2012, Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything (intellectual history)

Another book discovered through the NYRB, this is a more unwieldy account of early modern thinking than we find in Greenblatt’s book, The Swerve. Addressing roughly the same period through a cast of characters ranging from German alchemist Agrippa in the 15th Century through to  English astronomer Halley in the 18th, Ball is better than Greenblatt at describing the social context within which the pursuit of experimental science flourished.  The Church appears frequently as oppressive enemy of rational thought, with the inquisition clearly giving the renaissance a run for its money.  The secret societies (Chapter 2, Academies of Secrets) established in 15th Century Italy for the purposes of testing and publishing recipe books of secret knowledge (some valid, some nonsense) seem to have served the function of laboratories of the day. In the end, there are more disjointed individual anecdotes of learning than a coherent narrative of how the disciplines and universities emerged.  For that, McNeely and Wolverton (2008) are a better guide. (also posted on Amazon) 
David Last, 14 August 2013

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