Stranger Fruit

I’m actually finding it remarkably easy to answer this question.

I’d have to go for the period after 1660, in London, and thus during the time of the Scientific Revolution. Sure, you had to be a gentleman of privilege, but the Royal Society of London had begun to consolidate informal attitudes that had developed in Gresham College. Inquiry was everywhere. Experiments – often gruesome and on the experimenter – were run. (This gruesomeness – particularly in basic medical research – would continue well into the Georgian period – witness the life of the father of modern surgery, John Hunter). Equally as interesting, specialization hadn’t balkanized the sciences – you had guys like Robert Hooke working in biology, physics, meterology, and indeed architecture, the latter with Christopher Wren.

Some great evocations to the time and period are in Neal Stephenson’s novel Quicksilver, our own Carl Zimmer’s Soul Made Flesh, Lisa Jardine’s The Curious Life of Robert Hooke, and (for the 1700’s), Wendy Moore’s The Knife Man.


  1. #1 pough
    July 19, 2006

    I read Quicksilver and Soul Made Flesh at the same time. It became a little bit difficult sorting out the fact from fiction and I kept wondering why Zimmer left Waterhouse out…

    Truly an amazing time for science.

  2. #2 Sean
    July 20, 2006

    I’ve been a fan of Neal Stephenson’s books since I read Snow Crash in the early 90’s. I also quite enjoyed Quicksilver but I have yet to make it through the entire Baroque Cycle. The other two volumes have been here in my living room for quite some time but this literary opus, for me, is like a huge slab of chocolate cake. It’s rich, dense and satisfying but there’s a limit to how much of it can be taken in at once. One of my goals is to finally finish the dang thing. Incidentally, Stephenson’s previous novel Cryptonomicon features descendants of some of the characters in The Baroque Cycle and the character Enoch Root is featured prominently in both works.

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