The Clockwork Universe is the story of a band of men who lived in a world of dirt and disease but pictured a universe that ran like a perfect machine. A meld of history and science, this book is a group portrait of some of the greatest minds who ever lived as they wrestled with natures most sweeping mysteries. The answers they uncovered still hold the key to how we understand the world.
At the end of the 17th century, an age of religious wars, plague, and the Great Fire of London when most people saw the world as falling apart, these earliest scientists saw a world of perfect order. They declared that, chaotic as it looked, the universe was in fact as intricate and perfectly regulated as a clock. This was the tail end of Shakespeare's century, when the natural and the supernatural still twined around each other. Disease was a punishment ordained by God, astronomy had not yet broken free from astrology, and the sky was filled with omens. It was a time when little was known and everything was new. These brilliant, ambitious, curious men believed in angels, alchemy, and the devil, and they also believed that the universe followed precise, mathematical laws, a contradiction that tormented them and changed the course of history. The Clockwork Universe is the fascinating and compelling story of the bewildered geniuses of the Royal Society, the men who made the modern world.
©2011 Edward Dolnick (P)2011 Audible, Inc.
Mr Dolnick's book is basically about the scientific revolution which took place around the 17th century. It covers the discoveries of Kepler, Galileo, Boyle, Hook, Liebnitz, Newton and others. In an attempt to explain the science and the reasons the discoveries were of importance Mr Dolnick does what the reader would expect - he presents the mathematics and science in the simplest possible terms so that they are understandable to those with no scientific training.
In this he does a credable job and, for the most part, the explanations make sense and are presented at a level that can be understood by those not "expert" in the areas involved. Mr Dolnick also tries to present the history of the discoveries in context with the times so that readers can understand how and why the discoveries were of importance.
Some parts of this book work relatively well. Kepler's discoveries (the 3 Laws) are explained in simple terms, Galileo's work is explained in a way that readers can relate to and in a way that makes their importance to those in everyday life understandable. There is an extended section on infinite numbers and why they presented difficulties to early mathematicians and an even more extended section on the tragic, but inevitable, clash between Newton and Liebnitz. Mr Dolnick even mentions the problems this caused the British during the following years, although I believe he should have spent more time explaining why this was a serious problem for British scientists. Still he does make a stab at the issue.
On the other hand I believe that there are issues with the presentation as well. First, Mr Dolnick seems to have a problem with religion in general and with those who are religious in particular. The first part of the book fairly reeks of religious intolerance and those who are "believers" are sometimes treated as fools. Secondly Mr Dolnick sometimes raises issues that he does not bother to finish. For example, what happened to Kepler's mother?
While the book is not intended to be a scientific treatise on the issues I believe that those familiar with the science and mathematics are probably not going to enjoy entire sections of the book. In his attempt to make the issues understandable to the layman Mr Dolnick often uses terminology that is either incorrect or so "dumbed down" that it is difficult for those who know the subject areas to bear with. For example, no one in the Sciences has used the term "imaginary numbers" since I was in High School many, many years ago. The numbers are now referred to as "complex numbers" since they are not "imaginary" at all. And, in spite of Mr Dolnick's book, mathematicians today would almost universally say that they are involved in the discovery of "eternal truths" and that has not changed since the time of Kepler. Armithmetic is not, and never has been, part of modern mathematics past the 5th or 6th grade in school.
I can only review and evalutate this book in the light I see it. If I were a non-scientist I suppose my review might be different but I am not and hence I find this book "off-putting" in entire sections. While I believe it would be of interest to those without much of a scientific background I believe it is of only very limited interest to those who are trained in the "exact sciences". On the plus side I believe that Alan Sklar's narration is very well done.
To put it succinctly, the narrator ruined this book for me. Maybe Mr. Sklar would be great reading Shakespeare but this book is a work of non-fiction. I was constantly distracted by his attempts at reading life into the words, laughing at times, most times very animated, and always inappropriate in my perspective. There are very few books for which I am bothered by the narrator, but this is certainly one.
Now, as for the book itself... I like the history of science and great scientists. The Clockwork Universe did contain quite a bit of information about Newton, et al., that I didn't know and found intriguing. However it seemed a bit disjointed to me, even for non-fiction, bouncing around from one time period to another without context.
Probability of Listening to it Again: 1
Would Purchase Again Knowing What I Know Now: 1
I found this book to be quite entertaining. I find the people behind the science and the politics to be very interesting. Sklar's narration fit the tone of the book and kept me engaged through some of the more soap opera parts whilst also making the science aspects interesting. A very good read to see a bit behind the major breakthroughs of the science we take for granted today.
I'm afraid the narrator, whose voice is really fantastic, reads 'down' to the listener. I loved Dolnick's text, but Sklar made me feel as if I were sitting on the floor in a circle of third-graders. His tone diminishes the material. If you have the option, buy the hard copy.
Avid audible listener for over 10 years.
I enjoyed this book because I like the topic. It traces the evolution of cosmology from ancient greek times to modern times. Much of the book covers the three most famous scientist of their times. Galileo, Kepler and Newton. It does a great job explaining how the world evolved from a theory of the earth at the center of the universe to the universe as we now know it. The earth centric view was destroyed as soon as Galileo discovered the moons of Jupiter. The Earth could no longer be the center of the universe since those moons orbited Jupiter. The book also covers how Newton proved that the planets travel in an elliptical orbit about the sun.
This book is probably not for everyone, but if you like the subject of the history of science it is worth the listen.
The book attempts to understand the historical context of a major intellectual change rather than describe scientific innovation and so is more an intellectual history than a history of science itself. Nevertheless it is interesting, particularly the discussions of the strange beliefs that the fathers of modern chemistry and physics held. The member of the royal society did not imagine they were starting the world in the direction it is going today. I find this type of thing fascinating.
The narrator has a good voice, easy to listen to, but is insufferable at times. His narration is overdramatic and pedantic. I agree with the reviewer who writes that Sklar speaks down to the listener. The narrator actually chuckles at several points during the reading, like when he says "nature abhors a vacuum". I found this distracting and annoying, and it took away from an otherwise fun history.
What could be more exciting than the intellectual history of the seventeenth century? Galileo, the Newton-Leibniz controversy, universal gravitation etc. The characters in the Royal Society are extremely interesting. There is a lot to like in this book. However, the presentation is often lacking. There is just too much opinion and polemic in the description of the various intellectual endeavors. For instance, the critique of religion as practiced in the seventeenth century is relentless, but some of the core beliefs which come under ridicule are still held by many people now, and are dismissed out of hand as backwards in a way that can only be insulting.
I found the reading too slow, and often punctuated with little chuckles at the wrong time, which is disconcerting.
Much of the same historical material is covered in Neal Stephenson's excellent Baroque Cycle, available in a great audible edition.
I expected a book about the royal society as promised by the summary. What I got was a simplistic history of science and then a long comparison of Newton and Leibniz.
More time spent on more of the members of the Society and less on history of science for beginners
I am still waiting for a non fiction book on the Royal Society and its beginnings that equals Neil Stephensons "Quicksilver"
It's not for everyone, but scientific types will appreciate the in depth look at how the scientific greats made their discoveries.
No characters here, but very clear narration.
Everything about Newton had me riveted.
My favorite section was the last half. I love math, but only applied mathematics. I've always struggled with pure math for maths sake, but enjoyed it when it was involved in my other courses like chemistry and biology. The author describing the discovery of calculus and why it mattered I found fascinating.
The first half was a very general overview of the time period this book is centered around. It was interesting, and if someone hasn't already read dozens of general history books about this time period - then I think they'd really get a lot out of it.
I absolutely would and did recommend this book to some of my goodreads friends. This is a great introduction to this time period, and I found I learned a ton in the 2nd part especially.
I have not listened to him before, but I ABSOLUTELY would love to listen to another he has narrated.
The narrator had an absolutely splendid voice. I loved the gravitas he seemed to add to the whole thing.
Report Inappropriate Content
If you find this review inappropriate and think it should be removed from our site, let us know. This report will be reviewed by Audible and we will take appropriate action.