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The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London

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“Fascinating. . . . Jardine takes a complex view, according Hooke with the respect and dignity that eluded him for so long. . . [and] with this compelling and empathetic portrait, she succeeds in making a convincing case for his place in history. . . [as] a founding father in Europe’s scientific revolution.”   — Los Angeles Times The brilliant, largely forgotten maverick Ro “Fascinating. . . . Jardine takes a complex view, according Hooke with the respect and dignity that eluded him for so long. . . [and] with this compelling and empathetic portrait, she succeeds in making a convincing case for his place in history. . . [as] a founding father in Europe’s scientific revolution.”   — Los Angeles Times The brilliant, largely forgotten maverick Robert Hooke was an engineer, surveyor, architect, and inventor who worked tirelessly with his intimate friend Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. He was the first Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society, and his engravings of natural phenomena seen under the new microscope appeared in his masterpiece, the acclaimed Micrographia, one of the most influential volumes of the day. But Hooke's irascible temper and his passionate idealism proved fatal for his relationships with important political figures, most notably Sir Isaac Newton: their quarrel is legendary. As a result, historical greatness eluded Robert Hooke. Eminent historian Lisa Jardine does this original thinker of indefatigable curiosity and imagination justice and allows him to take his place as a major figure in the seventeenth century intellectual and scientific revolution.


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“Fascinating. . . . Jardine takes a complex view, according Hooke with the respect and dignity that eluded him for so long. . . [and] with this compelling and empathetic portrait, she succeeds in making a convincing case for his place in history. . . [as] a founding father in Europe’s scientific revolution.”   — Los Angeles Times The brilliant, largely forgotten maverick Ro “Fascinating. . . . Jardine takes a complex view, according Hooke with the respect and dignity that eluded him for so long. . . [and] with this compelling and empathetic portrait, she succeeds in making a convincing case for his place in history. . . [as] a founding father in Europe’s scientific revolution.”   — Los Angeles Times The brilliant, largely forgotten maverick Robert Hooke was an engineer, surveyor, architect, and inventor who worked tirelessly with his intimate friend Christopher Wren to rebuild London after the Great Fire of 1666. He was the first Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society, and his engravings of natural phenomena seen under the new microscope appeared in his masterpiece, the acclaimed Micrographia, one of the most influential volumes of the day. But Hooke's irascible temper and his passionate idealism proved fatal for his relationships with important political figures, most notably Sir Isaac Newton: their quarrel is legendary. As a result, historical greatness eluded Robert Hooke. Eminent historian Lisa Jardine does this original thinker of indefatigable curiosity and imagination justice and allows him to take his place as a major figure in the seventeenth century intellectual and scientific revolution.

30 review for The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London

  1. 5 out of 5

    Courtney Johnston

    You know, I have to fess up. My interest in the early years of the Royal Society began with Neale Stephenson's 'The Baroque Cycle', which I have read - in its lengthy entirety - not once, but twice. The more I read about the period and the political and scientific figures of the period, the more I admire what Stephenson achieved with those books, (and the more I kind of wish he'd left out the half the story and simply focused on the politics and the history of ideas). I'm thinking about this again You know, I have to fess up. My interest in the early years of the Royal Society began with Neale Stephenson's 'The Baroque Cycle', which I have read - in its lengthy entirety - not once, but twice. The more I read about the period and the political and scientific figures of the period, the more I admire what Stephenson achieved with those books, (and the more I kind of wish he'd left out the half the story and simply focused on the politics and the history of ideas). I'm thinking about this again having just read Lisa Jardine's biography of scientist, surveyor and 'mechanick' Robert Hooke. Although Jardine does an extremely solid job of putting Hooke's life and career into a religious, political and scientific context, it lacks the flair of Stephenson - or my current biographical crush, Claire Tomalin's study of Samuel Pepys. Of course, Hooke didn't leave material anywhere near as colourful as Pepys (although he shared in his servant-tupping ways). But compared to her coverage of Hooke in her earlier book 'Ingenious Pursuits', or Richard Holmes's in the terrific 'Age of Wonder', this felt more like a dutiful read towards the end. Having said that, I'm still looking forward to laying my hands on Jardine's latest, 'Going Dutch: How England Plundered Holland's Glory', about British and Dutch relations and entwinements leading up to and after William and Mary took over the throne. Of course, half the anticipatory pleasure is created by knowing I'll still be firmly in Stephenson's territory.... Guardian review

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ed Terrell

    Jardine brings the world of 17th century science to our doorstep with "The Curious Life". Robert Hooke was a precision instrument maker, an intellectual virtuoso, an "inveterate optimist" with extraordinary stamina, and a talented surveyor who, with Christopher Wren, rebuilt London after the Great Fire. It was a time of the camera obscura and of magic lanterns but also the time of calculus, new time keeping devices, and advances in telescopes which opened up the heavens anew. Hooke is most well Jardine brings the world of 17th century science to our doorstep with "The Curious Life". Robert Hooke was a precision instrument maker, an intellectual virtuoso, an "inveterate optimist" with extraordinary stamina, and a talented surveyor who, with Christopher Wren, rebuilt London after the Great Fire. It was a time of the camera obscura and of magic lanterns but also the time of calculus, new time keeping devices, and advances in telescopes which opened up the heavens anew. Hooke is most well known for his "Micrographia" with its exquisite engravings and descriptions of natural phenomena but its this same Hooke who traveled in the Oxford circle with Newton, Robert Boyle (the father of modern chemistry), Edmund Halley, and John Flamsteed. It was also a time of English civil wars and the pitting of one great nation against another. Kings rose to power and Kings heads rolled. The Black Death descended. Scientific communication across borders was in Latin. In these tumultuous times, Hooke found himself outside of influential court circles and subject to the social hierarchy. Ever the aggressive polemicist, he would battle Newton (on gravity) and Huygens (on light and the pendulum watch) with claims that his ideas predated theirs. He would be "obdurate and intransigent" and tenacious against those he believed wronged him, whether the "lying dog Oldenburg" or the "inquisitive Mr. Huygens". In the end, he would not be remembered for one great idea but rather it was his skill and attention to detail in making scientific instruments that was to be his steed. This is a great read and an adventure to another land and another time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ben

    Professor Jardine does it again. She had a tougher task than with her equally scholarly biography of Wren (On a Grander Scale) in that her protagonist is both less well known and less - well, likeable - than Wren. However, she succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of Hooke as an overworked, irascible, but thoroughly competent man, who to a large extent was the powerhouse behind so many of the scientific, technical and architectural achievements of the Restoration era. Hooke provides a cautiona Professor Jardine does it again. She had a tougher task than with her equally scholarly biography of Wren (On a Grander Scale) in that her protagonist is both less well known and less - well, likeable - than Wren. However, she succeeds in drawing a convincing picture of Hooke as an overworked, irascible, but thoroughly competent man, who to a large extent was the powerhouse behind so many of the scientific, technical and architectural achievements of the Restoration era. Hooke provides a cautionary tale for workaholics and multitaskers everywhere; his masters at the Royal Society were staggeringly intolerant of his work for the Corporation of London. Yet if one looks at what was going on in the 1660s and 70s - whether the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, or the unparalleled spirit of scientific enquiry within the Royal Society - and if one removes Hooke from the equation, it is difficult to see how any of it would have been achieved.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Duc

    Why I want to read this book: First encounter Hooke's law in general physics class. We conducted experiments using springs and weights in parallel and in circuits. Then this same equation was inverse in circuitry for electricity and magnetism. Then in the strength of materials class his law for elastic material increased my interests. After picking up this book at the local library, I saw an article about a new material using Hooke's Law and principals to absorb the energy of exploding bomb. The Why I want to read this book: First encounter Hooke's law in general physics class. We conducted experiments using springs and weights in parallel and in circuits. Then this same equation was inverse in circuitry for electricity and magnetism. Then in the strength of materials class his law for elastic material increased my interests. After picking up this book at the local library, I saw an article about a new material using Hooke's Law and principals to absorb the energy of exploding bomb. They have figured out how to make really thin clear membrane embedded in glass to create bullet proof glass using Hooke's Law. Hooke also dabbled in architecture helping Sir Christopher Wren build London after the Great Fires.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Insert obligatory "I read this because of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle" here. An excellent biography of a difficult subject. Hooke is something of an also-ran in the history of restoration science, with a strong reputation as a difficult personality who tended to claim that others had stolen his work. Jardine does an excellent job of depicting him and how he fit into the Royal Society and London. Her affection for her subject is clear, and well conveyed, without obscuring what seems to be a fa Insert obligatory "I read this because of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle" here. An excellent biography of a difficult subject. Hooke is something of an also-ran in the history of restoration science, with a strong reputation as a difficult personality who tended to claim that others had stolen his work. Jardine does an excellent job of depicting him and how he fit into the Royal Society and London. Her affection for her subject is clear, and well conveyed, without obscuring what seems to be a fairly honest depiction of what the man did, didn't do, and may have done.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tim Robinson

    Hooke, like his contemporaries Newton and Halley, had many and varied interests, and this sprawling chaotic career makes for a sprawlng chaotic biography. Hooke was an overworked multitasker whose projects tended to fizzle out rather than culminate in brilliant success. None of this is the author's fault, of course. But I can't help feeling that a more masterful, indeed ruthless handling might have brought order and clarity. Such a work would necessarily be incomplete, but that is a price I woul Hooke, like his contemporaries Newton and Halley, had many and varied interests, and this sprawling chaotic career makes for a sprawlng chaotic biography. Hooke was an overworked multitasker whose projects tended to fizzle out rather than culminate in brilliant success. None of this is the author's fault, of course. But I can't help feeling that a more masterful, indeed ruthless handling might have brought order and clarity. Such a work would necessarily be incomplete, but that is a price I would be willing to pay.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Peter

    I read this book because Robert Hooke was one of the most entertaining characters in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (Possibly the best cycle of books since LOTR). Obviously this is a bit dryer than the fictionalized version of Hooke but Stephenson seems to have gotten him pretty close. He actually sites this book in his aknowledgements which is where I found out about it anyway. Definately worth reading. I read this book because Robert Hooke was one of the most entertaining characters in Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle (Possibly the best cycle of books since LOTR). Obviously this is a bit dryer than the fictionalized version of Hooke but Stephenson seems to have gotten him pretty close. He actually sites this book in his aknowledgements which is where I found out about it anyway. Definately worth reading.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    Very disappointing. The sequence of events leading up to the great fire of London became hopelessly muddled. Authors sometimes go backwards and forwards in time to emphasize important events. This was not the case here, were the trivial and the vital became lost in a soup of sloppy research. I gave away reading this book at this stage, so if you have a different impression, good luck to you.

  9. 5 out of 5

    McCraddock

    Let he who is without hilariously petty interpersonal grievances cast the first stone.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Smitesh Bakrania

    Very detailed treatment of the life of Robert Hooke. A highly influential scientist/engineer who has been lost to history. His influence on statics, dynamics, civil engineering, thermodynamics, gravitation, astronomy, etc is notable. He was also a key figure in the development of a spring-based mechanical clock, yet never pursued it beyond any idea until Christian Huygens developed it. The book really highlights the life in London from early 1600s to early 1700s. This includes the beheading of C Very detailed treatment of the life of Robert Hooke. A highly influential scientist/engineer who has been lost to history. His influence on statics, dynamics, civil engineering, thermodynamics, gravitation, astronomy, etc is notable. He was also a key figure in the development of a spring-based mechanical clock, yet never pursued it beyond any idea until Christian Huygens developed it. The book really highlights the life in London from early 1600s to early 1700s. This includes the beheading of Charles I, The Great Fire of London and the Plague. Hooke together with Christopher Wren redesigned London after the fire. They were the key architects. Several key figures come into the narrative, including Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle (Boyle's Law), Oldenburg (who began the Phil. Transactions), Edmund Halley (influenced Newton to write his Principia and used the calculations to determine the Halley's Comet's period), etc. I certainly longed for the technical details of Hooke's contributions within Micrographia and aspects related to the discovery of Hooke's Laws for springs. Overall a good book to immerse one self into the early age of wonder.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dean

    Although I find Robert Hooke the person fascinating, and rather like Tesla in the modern age criminally under appreciated for his contributions to science, this is a rather too dry affair to really do him justice. Almost an academic study written for academic readers. We get plenty on Hooke the inventor/ scientist, plenty on his actual work, lots of dates, facts and figures ( and I mean lots), but very little on the man himself. The fact history has left us very little detail about the man shows Although I find Robert Hooke the person fascinating, and rather like Tesla in the modern age criminally under appreciated for his contributions to science, this is a rather too dry affair to really do him justice. Almost an academic study written for academic readers. We get plenty on Hooke the inventor/ scientist, plenty on his actual work, lots of dates, facts and figures ( and I mean lots), but very little on the man himself. The fact history has left us very little detail about the man shows here, as Lisa Jardine is reduced to guesswork and conjecture a lot of the time. Did I learn things I didn’t know? Yes I did, so for me the read was a partial success. Is is a ‘good’ book? Not sure. Passable, if not essential reading.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Because of the topic and the supporting quotes and footnotes, it's a bit of a slog at times, but it is surprisingly interesting even though it's about a scientist who isn't necessarily well-known outside the realm of academics who study the history of science. Though this was already on my to-read list, Hooke was mentioned in Bryson's History of Nearly Everything, which I read right before I started this one so perhaps more of the public is now aware of his existence. If you are a patient reader Because of the topic and the supporting quotes and footnotes, it's a bit of a slog at times, but it is surprisingly interesting even though it's about a scientist who isn't necessarily well-known outside the realm of academics who study the history of science. Though this was already on my to-read list, Hooke was mentioned in Bryson's History of Nearly Everything, which I read right before I started this one so perhaps more of the public is now aware of his existence. If you are a patient reader, this is a great book to deepen your knowledge of Hooke's life and contributions to science.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Pam Porter

    An interesting and important scientist from the 17th century. Important in the founding of the Royal Society of London. The book was well-researched but unnecessarily long.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mason

    This was a challenge. I wanted to like it so much, but it suffered from an unavoidable lack of information about Robert Hooke. All of the period details about the founding of the Royal Society, the fire, the plague and the state of science in Europe at the end of the 17th Century was fascinating, but I wanted to read a book about Robert Hooke. It relied WAY to much on excerpts of his writing, which were colorful to be sure, but oftentimes the author would immediately follow these passages with a This was a challenge. I wanted to like it so much, but it suffered from an unavoidable lack of information about Robert Hooke. All of the period details about the founding of the Royal Society, the fire, the plague and the state of science in Europe at the end of the 17th Century was fascinating, but I wanted to read a book about Robert Hooke. It relied WAY to much on excerpts of his writing, which were colorful to be sure, but oftentimes the author would immediately follow these passages with a summary of the same passage. It led to this book being unfortunately repetitious. Mostly, it made me want to reread The Baroque Cycle again...

  15. 4 out of 5

    David R.

    Jardine does try to marshall support for the notorious rival of Isaac Newton, but she is limited by the material. Hooke was a brilliant polymath in his own way. Yet he was a petty, rude and ill-behaved individual whose gift was making enemies. These tendencies, as Jardine pointed out, were even further exacerbated by chemical abuse. It is difficult to like the man. But we can understand what he brought to the architectural and scientific party.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Garry Geer

    The packaging, illustrations and layout of the book was wonderful. Unfortunately, it seemed to approach the life of Hooke as something that was already well-understood by the reader. There were fascinating pockets of information that sketched out what would be a fascinating biography. Unfortunately, it seemed as if the author didn't know who her audience would be. The packaging, illustrations and layout of the book was wonderful. Unfortunately, it seemed to approach the life of Hooke as something that was already well-understood by the reader. There were fascinating pockets of information that sketched out what would be a fascinating biography. Unfortunately, it seemed as if the author didn't know who her audience would be.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    An interesting man who deserves a more interesting book. I suppose the problem was with lack of information about Hooke - not totally the author's fault if she had to stretch a lot of conclusions from not much data. Still, I was really looking forward to this one, and I ended up skimming most of it. An interesting man who deserves a more interesting book. I suppose the problem was with lack of information about Hooke - not totally the author's fault if she had to stretch a lot of conclusions from not much data. Still, I was really looking forward to this one, and I ended up skimming most of it.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    I liked this a lot--it was really fun to read. Organization was a bit spotty, parts were excessively speculative for a history in my opinion, & sometimes the tone was a little partisan, but acknowledging that, it was interesting & I think importantly corrective of the (semi)popular image of Hooke.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Interesting account of the life of a very scientifically important man, who is often in the biographies of others and in fiction portrayed as some sort of malevolent science troll. Had not realised his importance in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire.

  20. 5 out of 5

    S

    A bit muddled up in places and I found the author desperate for the reader to understand and forgive Hooke - all the time. Maybe he was just grumpy.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Phil

    An interesting book. I now intend to read more of Lisa Jardine, starting with "On a Grander Scale" - the life & times of sir Christopher Wren. An interesting book. I now intend to read more of Lisa Jardine, starting with "On a Grander Scale" - the life & times of sir Christopher Wren.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Juanito

  23. 5 out of 5

    Andy Nismal

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mike Leonardi

  25. 5 out of 5

    Stan Bland

  26. 4 out of 5

    John

  27. 4 out of 5

    Christoph

  28. 5 out of 5

    Paige

  29. 4 out of 5

    Peter Haik

  30. 5 out of 5

    Kevin James Baensch

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