I have a book to recommend to fellow accidental naturalists, curious naturalists, and even professional naturalists:
The Clockwork Universe: Isaac Newton, the Royal Society & the Birth of the Modern World, by science writer Edward Dolnick. It is well researched, well written, fun, fascinating, and will astound you with stories you've never heard about the most brilliant minds of the 17th Century. This book is not historical fiction--it is non-fiction with page-turner pacing. I take the discoveries of the 17th Century for granted (heliocentrism, orbiting planets, gravity etc.), but I found myself reading along excitedly wondering if and how anyone was going to be able prove that the sun was the center of our galaxy, that the planets revolved around the sun in set orbits, that a force called gravity kept Earth's moon close by.
Dolnick's book brings to life the work of eccentric genius Isaac Newton and also Euclid, Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, Aristotle, Hooke, Boyle, Leibniz, Brahe, and Halley. Don't be daunted. It's time you remembered more about these men than their names. Here are a few nuggets fromThe Clockwork Universe to lure you away fromFifty Shades of...whatever and into the Light of Reason.
"Science today is a grand and formal enterprise, but he modern age of science began as a free-for-all. The idea was to see for yourself rather than to rely on anyone else's authority. The Royal Society's motto as "Nullius in Verba," Latin for, roughly "Don't take anyone's word for it," and early investigators embraced that freedom with something akin to giddiness....The meetings of the Royal Society in its young days sound like gatherings of very smart, very reckless Cub Scouts."
In my attempts to explain why clouds are white this year, I read much on visible light and light-particle interactions. I had no idea that the legacy of the scientific literature on this topic stretched back 340 years:
In 1672 the scientific journal Philosophical Transactions, Dolnick writes, "published a hugely important article, Newton's report that 'pure' white light contains within itself all the colors of the spectrum. The paper, almost as much as the discovery itself, marked a breakthrough. This was, the historian I. Bernard Cohen observed, 'the first time that major scientific discovery was announced in print in a periodical.'"
In describing the impact of Galileo's work and the "new science" that showed that heaven and earth were constructed according to a mathematical plan, Dolnick writes:
"Mankind had long taken its place at the center of the cosmos for granted. The world was a play performed for our benefit. No longer. In the new picture, man is not even the pinnacle of creation but an afterthought. The universe would carry on almost exactly the same without us. The planets trace out patterns in the sky, and those patterns would be identical whether or not humans had ever taken notice of them. Mankind's role in the cosmic drama is that of a fly buzzing around a stately grandfather clock."