Sunday Salon: SEEING FURTHER edited by Bill Bryson
Today, and for the last couple of days, I've been reading SEEING FURTHER. This large, and generally fascinating book has been edited by Bill Bryson, with (I've just realised) Jon Turney as contributing editor.
The subtitle is 'The Story of Science and the Royal Society' and I am learning a lot. The chapters, each by a different eminent science writer or novelist, are pleasingly short and engaging, and there is a generous smattering of illustrations. Even topics such as the history of bridges (from Telford onwards) by Henry Petroski is made interesting (which I wouldn't have thought possible), and I've just finished a fascinating overview of the history of X-ray crystallography and how it is used to elucidate the structure of large molecules by Georgina Ferry.
Another of my favourite chapters so far (and there have been many) has been the first by James Gleick. This was about some of the early members and there was one called Colonel James Long who had an amusing taste for the bizarre. After I had finished that chapter I found the Colonel on Wikipedia and discovered that as a magistrate he had been responsible for the hanging of several women as witches. During the Civil War he was a Royalist and was captured by the Parliamentarians, but when Oliver Cromwell went hawking with him he 'fell in love' with his company so much that he was allowed to wear his sword. In SEEING FURTHER Long is described as a devotee of 'astrology, witchcraft and natural magic' and in contrast to Cromwell, his fellow member of the Royal Society, John Aubrey, found him 'an admirable extempore orator for a harangue' (or as Gleick puts it 'never stopped gabbling'). Gleick also says that he presented so many observations to the society that the 'minute-taker sometimes sounds weary.' Excellent stuff.
I shall write a full review for Bookmunch.