Posts Tagged ‘William Whewell’

Press Release: The Philosophical Breakfast Club by Laura J. Snyder

February 1st, 2011


Contact: Rachel Rokicki











Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World


By Laura J. Snyder


“Each of the four figures is a worthy subject in his own right, and by combining their stories Snyder provides the right balance of biography and science. It also allows Snyder to discuss a wide range of scientific developments that are sufficiently modern to appeal to today’s readers.”

–-Publishers Weekly


“The author skillfully weaves together the lives of her four principals with the science of their day.”

–-Kirkus Reviews


“An accessible and engaging read on the origins of Victorian science, its personalities, and the cultural contribution made by these four men, this will appeal to readers interested in Victorian science, biographies, astronomy, chemistry, the religion vs. science debate, Darwin, computers, and a smorgasbord of related sciences.”

–-Library Journal


“It is too easy to think that ‘science’ is what happens now, that modernity and scientific thought are inseparable. Yet as Laura Snyder so brilliantly shows in this riveting picture of the first heroic age, the nineteenth century saw the invention of the computer, of electrical impulses, the harnessing of the power of steam–the birth of railways, statistics and technology. In The Philosophical Breakfast Club she draws an endearing–almost domestic–picture of four scientific titans, and shows how–through their very ‘clubbability’–they created the scientific basis on which the modern world stands.”

–-Judith Flanders, author of Inside the Victorian Home


“The four busy geniuses who inhabit Laura Snyder’s wonderfully engaging book did not invent friendship or science, but by combining those pastimes in their “philosophical breakfasts,” they managed to invent much else, from the very word “scientist” to versions of the computer and the camera.”

–-Joyce E. Chaplin, James Duncan Phillips Professor of History, Harvard University


“By tracing the careers of the four members of the Philosophical Breakfast Club, Laura Snyder has found a wonderful way not just to tell the great stories of nineteenth-century science, but to bring them vividly to life. ”

 –-Tom Standage, author of A History of the World in 6 Glasses


“In this elegantly written book, Snyder has brought to life four of the most important British scientists of the first half of the nineteenth century. She tracks the intertwined lives of these four figures—their loves, their personal successes, and their devastating failures—while casting light on every facet of British science during their lifetime.”  

–-Bernard Lightman, professor of humanities and director, Institute of Science and Technology Studies, York University 



The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Snyder (Broadway Books; February 22, 2011) is a rich work of biography and history in the tradition of Richard Holmes’s bestselling The Age of Wonder.  Snyder, an expert on Victorian science and culture, has written what is, in a sense, a sequel to Holmes’s book, showing how a small group of men working in the early nineteenth century made a number of significant discoveries and, together, brought about a scientific revolution.

The four men—Charles Babbage, John Herschel, William Whewell, and Richard Jones—are relatively unknown today though their remarkable achievements are remembered. Charles Babbage was a mathematical genius who invented the modern computer; John Herschel, an accomplished astronomer, chemist, and botanist, mapped the skies of the Southern Hemisphere and contributed to the invention of photography; William Whewell not only invented the word “scientist” but also founded the fields of crystallography, mathematical economics, and the science of tides; Richard Jones, a bon vivant and linchpin of the group’s discussions, shaped the science of economics. Each of these men possessed the optimism of the Victorian age and dreamed of bringing about a scientific revolution.

The four principals of the “Breakfast Club” met as undergraduates at the University of Cambridge in 1812. Recognizing that they shared a love of science, as well as good food and drink, they began to come together on Sunday mornings to discuss the state of science not only in Britain, but in the world at large.  During the 1810s to the 1870s, from when they resolved to change science until their deaths, a dazzling array of scientific achievements burst onto the scene.  The members of the club were involved in most of these triumphs of science and technology.  The Philosophical Breakfast Club tells the story of these extraordinary men, exposing the political passions, religious impulses, friendships, rivalries, and love of knowledge—and power—that drove them. Drawing upon the voluminous correspondence between them over the fifty years of their campaign, Snyder shows how friendship worked to spur the men on to greater accomplishments, and how it enabled them to transform science and help create the modern world. 


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: An expert on Victorian science and culture, Fulbright scholar Laura J. Snyder served as president of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science in 2009 and 2010. She is an associate professor of philosophy at St. John’s University and the author of Reforming Philosophy: A Victorian Debate on Science and Society.



Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World

By Laura J. Snyder

Crown • On-sale date: February 22, 2011 • ISBN: 978-0-7679-3048-2 • Price: $27.00


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