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Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the…
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Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the Making of Science in Europe (edition 2022)

by Hugh Aldersey-Williams (Author)

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Enchanting to the point of escapism.' - Simon Ings, Spectator'Hugh Aldersey-Williams rescues his subject from Newton's shadow, where he was been unjustly confined for over three hundred years.' - Literary ReviewFilled with incident, discovery, and revelation, Dutch Light is a vivid account of Christiaan Huygens's remarkable life and career, but it is also nothing less than the story of the birth of modern science as we know it. Europe's greatest scientist during the latter half of the seventeenth century, Christiaan Huygens was a true polymath. A towering figure in the fields of astronomy, optics, mechanics, and mathematics, many of his innovations in methodology, optics and timekeeping remain in use to this day. Among his many achievements, he developed the theory of light travelling as a wave, invented the mechanism for the pendulum clock, and discovered the rings of Saturn - via a telescope that he had also invented.A man of fashion and culture, Christiaan came from a family of multi-talented individuals whose circle included not only leading figures of Dutch society, but also artists and philosophers such as Rembrandt, Locke and Descartes. The Huygens family and their contemporaries would become key actors in the Dutch Golden Age, a time of unprecedented intellectual expansion within the Netherlands. Set against a backdrop of worldwide religious and political turmoil, this febrile period was defined by danger, luxury and leisure, but also curiosity, purpose, and tremendous possibility.Following in Huygens's footsteps as he navigates this era while shuttling opportunistically between countries and scientific disciplines, Hugh Aldersey-Williams builds a compelling case to reclaim Huygens from the margins of history and acknowledge him as one of our most important and influential scientific figures.… (more)
Member:ajapt
Title:Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the Making of Science in Europe
Authors:Hugh Aldersey-Williams (Author)
Info:Picador (2022), 560 pages
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Dutch Light: Christiaan Huygens and the Making of Science in Europe by Hugh Aldersey-Williams

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Christiaan Huygens (1629-95) is not well known today, and if he is it is as the name on the Titan lander spacecraft of 2005. This biography aims to change that and to put Huygens in his proper place in the pantheon of pioneering scientists.

The 17th century was a golden age of the natural sciences and laid the foundations for what we would call today the scientific method and the true sciences. It is during this time that we start to see full-time career scientists appear, along with growing specialisation in a chosen field. The roll call of scientific names in this period is awe-inspiring: Boyle, Hooke, Newton, Cassini, Fermat, Leibniz, Mersenne, Pascal, Leeuwenhoek and more.

Huygens was born into a life of privilege and success and was expected in his turn to be successful and make his mark. A key contributor to the Dutch Golden Age he and his family were intimately involved in many aspects of the political, military and commercial expansion and turmoil of this period.

As a scientist Huygens has an impressive list of achievements: inventor of the pendulum clock mechanism, discoverer of the rings of Saturn and the moon Titan, developer of a wave theory of light and many more across the fields of astronomy, optics, mathematics and mechanics. During his lifetime he was the acknowledged preeminent scientist in Europe and his opinion was constantly sought about whether a particular idea or theory was worth pursuing. Huygens’ approval of ones work was a mark that you had made it.

That he is not routinely mentioned alongside Leibniz and Newton is a puzzle (Huygens was just about the only intellect that Newton acknowledged was equal or even superior to his own). Alderney-Williams gives a convincing explanation that this was at least partly due to Huygens focus on commercially exploitable research; he worked hard at developing a sea-going accurate clock that could be used to measure longitude, for example, and spent much time building and maintaining water features for rich and powerful men.

This is a very readable and interesting work. The Huygens family were remarkable for their involvement in so many key events in Dutch and European history and in their network of key contacts across the Continent. We glimpse the everyday lives of these people. Written for the general reader the detail of the science is played down (for me, I could have stood a little more on this). ( )
  pierthinker | Mar 22, 2021 |
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Enchanting to the point of escapism.' - Simon Ings, Spectator'Hugh Aldersey-Williams rescues his subject from Newton's shadow, where he was been unjustly confined for over three hundred years.' - Literary ReviewFilled with incident, discovery, and revelation, Dutch Light is a vivid account of Christiaan Huygens's remarkable life and career, but it is also nothing less than the story of the birth of modern science as we know it. Europe's greatest scientist during the latter half of the seventeenth century, Christiaan Huygens was a true polymath. A towering figure in the fields of astronomy, optics, mechanics, and mathematics, many of his innovations in methodology, optics and timekeeping remain in use to this day. Among his many achievements, he developed the theory of light travelling as a wave, invented the mechanism for the pendulum clock, and discovered the rings of Saturn - via a telescope that he had also invented.A man of fashion and culture, Christiaan came from a family of multi-talented individuals whose circle included not only leading figures of Dutch society, but also artists and philosophers such as Rembrandt, Locke and Descartes. The Huygens family and their contemporaries would become key actors in the Dutch Golden Age, a time of unprecedented intellectual expansion within the Netherlands. Set against a backdrop of worldwide religious and political turmoil, this febrile period was defined by danger, luxury and leisure, but also curiosity, purpose, and tremendous possibility.Following in Huygens's footsteps as he navigates this era while shuttling opportunistically between countries and scientific disciplines, Hugh Aldersey-Williams builds a compelling case to reclaim Huygens from the margins of history and acknowledge him as one of our most important and influential scientific figures.

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