Converse's Reviews > The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World

The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder
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Jun 11, 2011

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bookshelves: economics, non-fiction, science, astronomy, mathematics
Read in June, 2011

This work is a collective biography of four nineteenth century British men who met at Cambridge University and contributed to the intellectual life of their country, mainly in the sciences. They were born roughly a generation before Charles Darwin. The four men where William Whewell, who coined the word "scientist," Charles Babbage, John Herschel, and Richard Jones. Charles Babbage is known for his attempt to develop a true computer, the analytical engine as he called it. John Herschel, the son of the astronomer William Herschel, was also an astronomer and deserves to be better known for his role in developing photography. William Whewell was a mathematician and academic. Jones was the odd man out, as after becoming a cleric he began writing about economics, eventually taking Thomas Malthus's academic post in teaching the subject to future employees of the East India Company. All of them wrote for the general public as well as specialized publications. What they mostly shared intellectually was a more inductive approach to their studies than was common at the time. For example Jones wrote an economic text which was strikingly different from the deductive approach taken by David Ricardo. Later in life there was a falling out between Babbage and the rest, as he took offense at passage in one of Whewell's popular books than seemed (if one wished to take it that way) to denigrate mathematical approaches to science. Babbage would seem to be the one whom I would describe as brilliant, an admirable quality unfortunately joined to a irritable disposition and a sense of entitlement.


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