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.
Learn, understand, then decide whether you accept or reject.
This book captures the mindsets of great men and their contemporaries in a way that makes them believably human, rather than names thrown around in a science textbook. We understand their quirks, their theories and how they viewed the world.
As a parting thought about the book, I have a question about why people today are separating science from religion even though it's clear some of the greatest scientists in history did their research with the intention of understanding God's universe better.
Great food for thought.
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
It is difficult to imagine a target readership for this book. If you are not academically inclined, the subject matter will not be interesting. If you are, then the material is too basic to hold your attention. Maybe it is for teenage children; maybe it is for people who learn their history from cable TV.
The narrator over-acts and has a voice that is mismatched to the material: the performance sounds like a trailer for a movie about someone who has stolen money from the Mafia. Quotes from other writers are delivered in an ironic tone of voice, as though the words are somehow funny or quaint, even when the subject matter suggests otherwise.
There is an additional problem for British readers: while some American accents are pleasant and transparent, this one isn't. It set my teeth on edge.
Readers on both sides of the Atlantic should avoid this audio book; British readers should run away screaming.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Clockwork Universe. It was full of humor, fascinating history, and interesting information about the scientific revolution. I liked the narrator's style and it felt like he was having a conversation with the listener. Excellent book and great stories to share with students, friends, or family.
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.
I am a Physics and Engineering student.
Isaac Newton lived in a time when the average lifespan was around 30 and people believed the Plague was a punishment from God. Well, the men of "The Royal Society" believed in God also; they believed him to be a Mathematician and that he commands the Universe following a set of Mathematical rules. Newton spent his whole life trying to figure these rules out and was pretty successful at it.
Dolnick gives a pretty well rounded history of Isaac Newton's work. Not too much to where it would have become boring, but enough to leave you satisfied or maybe even wanting some more. I fall into the wanting some more category and was sad when the book was done. I found this book to be intellectually stimulating and also found myself laughing at times.
The Narrator was a little above average, and definitely sufficient. The best quality he had was his ability to express the humorous parts. I guess I could even go as far as saying he made those parts more humorous and earned an extra star for that.
I definitely recommend this book. I am very happy that I bought it and would do it again if I could go back.
Having read biographies of Newton, I had hoped that this would focus more on the Royal Society, but the author took a broader approach by reviewing the development of science leading up to the Royal Society and then spent most of the time reviewing Newton's life. I would have preferred more on the the History of Fishes and other more obscure stories from the period. The narrator has been criticized in some reviews, but I though he was fine for what he had to work with.
I live in Thailand, and love to listen to audible.
I loved this audio book, it takes you back into the world of scientists in the 1600's and immerses the reader in their triumphs, rages, selfish behavior and how they regarded everything as directly done by God. But yet Isaac Newton figured out gravity, and he and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz created calculus - but separately and unbeknownst to the other. The book is so interesting, telling about facts these scientists figured out, such as if gravity went away the moon would fly off in a straight line. It would actually fly off on a tangent. Facts like these are interwoven with interesting personalities and lives. The narration is perfect. I highly recommend it. Loved it.
This is an interesting story from an important time in the development of modern science. I really appreciated the background and biographical information of the times and individuals involved. I guess that a sign of a good book is that it left me wanting more detail and depth in the origin of science as we know it. I'm now on that quest.
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