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.
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.
the content of this book was really inspiring. I found the reading performance smooth. I was able to concentrate on the content and never noticed any irritations with the reading. It made me want to study calculus. The content was pretty heady, but offered in an interesting story telling manner. I found it interesting to notice that the greatest minds of history had a deep belief in a judeo christian god. The author seems to discount this as an hinderance, however the greatest geniuses in science, music and politics seem to have emerged from these cultures. Was it simply the God they worshiped or the lifestyle of this society that gave us so many great thinkers.
Who knew Math had personality?
Ok,I admit I am a history junkie, especially when the story is told in an interesting, factual way. If my math teachers in High School and College has shared some the history in this book as background material for algebra and calculus, I would have certainly paid more attention and would have found the subject much more interesting.
This story makes the numbers on the page come alive, and they tell a fascinating story- rivals, feuds, discoveries, court intrigue, intelligence, jealousy- its all there.
The story is factual and informative, the pace is good, the length is just about right, and the reader is solid. The narrator has a nice voice, a 'math' voice and tells the story with a tone that keeps you interested in learning what is behind the next corner, or the next decimal.
If you like factual history, this is a story for you. If you like to know things like how ideas evolved, the struggles early inventors and mathematicians faced in revealing details like the earth revolving around the sun, which went against current beliefs (ever feel like taking on a Pope?) then this is an audio you will enjoy.
Is the book worth a credit? Yes and I would listen to this story again at the right time. This is also an audio I would use with my family on a short road trip, to spark their interest in math, physics and astronomy.
One deal breaker for me in audios is language and sex. Authors who use excessive profanity, in my mind lack imagination and loose something in their story telling. Same with sex scenes that are overly descriptive and drawn out.
Nothing like that in this story, it will stimulate your mind and your imagination.
I learned a lot of useful things from this book and was able to understand the scientists and the scientific method much better as a result. Great to understand the basis for the way research is conducted and I am grateful for the explanation throughout of what thinking and knowledge was like before the invention of science through observation and empirical evidence. I never realised and feel so silly for having never thought about why it is that we think the way we do today.
I liked learning about the personalities behind the history of science, great stories and an enhanced ability to contextualise their ideas and add interest to their contributions. I am also better able to remember their laws and contributions as a result of having known their stories.
A terrific and fun history. I wish I had listened to it years ago before tutoring 'world history' and teaching students about enlightenment.
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.
I grew up on Golden Age Radio, I love to learn about a great many things, and I enjoy a wide variety of genres. Me, bored? Never!
This book sets everything up with a concise account of the kinds of nonsense and "old wives' tales" people believed back in the Middle Ages. It's important to note that people in those times weren't stupid, but superstition permeated everything, and society kept locks on the doors of advancement for a long time, often out of fear. And then little by little, some brave and brilliant minds risked ridicule or worse and slowly unlocked the secrets that transformed our understanding and gave birth to modern science. This is that story of what they did, how they did it, and some of the drama that unfolded because of it. That drama is precisely why I make the remark in the title of this review. This book will reveal that the Dark Ages weren't quite so dark, the Enlightenment wasn't that enlightening, and yet we made it this far in spite of ourselves because of the chain of events that did transpire. It's an interesting account that fills in some of the story behind the story.
This book is certainly a lot of fun for anyone with a passing interest in intellectual history in general, or the turn of the eighteenth century in England in specific. If you're already pretty versed in the beginnings of the Royal Society or the life of Isaac Newton, you probably won't learn very much, but Dolnick's handling of the subject matter is still engaging and makes it feel like you're listening to a story about some old friends. A great aspect of this book is that it pays particular attention to the interpersonal relationships between the great minds of the era. Newton's feuds could fill a book of their own, but this book handles some of the big ones rather neatly.
I would like to point out, however, that the reading is pretty grating. Alan Sklar certainly has a pleasant speaking voice, but his delivery of the material seems almost condescending at times. At several points in the narration, he actually chuckles while delivering some lines, and the result is that he comes across as holding the primary sources in contempt, whether that is actually true or not. Some of the great discoveries of that time have become practically cliché, but in their original context they deserve more respect than this reading gives them.
Still, this book is an enjoyable experience from start to finish. As someone who has researched this particular period fairly extensively, I didn't really learn much from it, but I enjoyed listening. I recommend it to anyone interested in learning more about the Scientific Revolution, or what kind of man Sir Isaac Newton actually was.
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.
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