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Hostage to Fortune: The Troubled Life of Francis Bacon Hardcover – Apr 1999

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 637 pages
  • Publisher: Hill & Wang Pub; First American edition (April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809055392
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809055395
  • Product Dimensions: 23.9 x 16.5 x 5.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 2.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,490,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover
Full of longuers, with over long quotes- often linked to decades of humiliating prostrations before the Court elite to get preferment via patronage.Ignores detailing/sufficiently emphasizing key aspects of the period = the deeply entrenched religious controversies influence on almost every aspect of public & private life + the frantic rise in coping with popular folk belief (1580-1620 saw the maximum intensity of the Essex witchcraft trials) + no focus on the extent (if any) that Bacon was influenced by the "occult philosophy" prevalent amongst the Elizabethan intellectual elite (including many of his close acquaintances) + it barely refers, even en passant, to the literary & dramatic "rebirths" in England's late flowering & all too short lived Renaissance.As the extensive quotes blurs the narrative thread,it lacks the clarity of argument AND the stimulating style which Jardine displays when writing solo (as in "Going Dutch" & "Worldly Goods") It DESCRIBES rather than EXPLAINS eg = 1619 Palatinate crisis not put in context of King James' routine policy of avoiding military action on the European mainland : eg = it states Bacon had novel insights into new theories & practices for the persuit of knowledge BUT does not offer suggestions for the influences leading to such a new approach NOR is there any clear detail as to WHAT precisely he was advocating that was so different & superior to his predecessors rigidly arid Aristotelian scholasticism. CONCLUSION = 524 pages of descriptive Tedium Vitae.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 5 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Bacon for sceptics. 18 Aug 2001
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
While the book starts slowly with what seems to be an overly detailed account of Bacon's family and their activities, it is a clear headed and balanced account of a man who achieved fame across the centuries, as well as in his own time---but never great virtue, character or happiness in his own life. It is quite readable, and even engrossing in the second half. Scholars will appreciate the careful documentation and extensive reference to sources and supporting materials.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
All about the life, little about the man 3 Oct 2005
By Joel Jacobsen - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is in many ways superb. The writing is smooth, the judgments intelligently based on evidence, the archival research prodigious. But it leaves one with oddly little sense of Bacon the man. Partly that's because the authors don't speculate, confining themselves to the historical record. That's a great virtue, but it also means we never get a sense of Bacon's relations with his wife, or even his sexuality. We hear about his chronically poor health, but not what his symptoms suggest to a modern doctor. Also, the authors don't examine Bacon's writings in any sort of detail. This is definitely a "life and times", not a "life and letters."

The authors rarely step back to give an overall picture. There are no scene-setting panoramas, no authorial intrusions to explain why, for example, they decided to go into such detail about the activities of Bacon's brother Anthony. One gathers that the authors believe Anthony and Francis were working closely together, but I would have liked to have their thinking explained more fully. (Although Anthony is practically the main character of the first quarter of the book, his death is mentioned only in passing.)

These criticisms reflect my occasional irritation with the book, but they don't detract from the authors' tremendous achievement. If the authors had included everything I missed, the book would have been quite a bit fatter, and that would have been a negative, too. As it is, the book is (just barely) small enough to be read without risk of injury, unlike so many other modern biographies.

The book contains a great deal about Bacon's political activities, as another reviewer has noted. That's because a great deal of Bacon's life was occupied with political activities. If all you want to read about is Bacon's scientific works, you shouldn't read a biography of their author. In the case of Isaac Newton, there is practically no difference between the life and the scientific work. But in Bacon's case, there is not only a difference but a dichotomy. He was a successful lawyer and politician who also happened to kick-start the Scientific Revolution.

To summarize, Hostage to Fortune provides all the details, but not the outline. My advice would be to familiarize yourself with the basic course of Bacon's life and his achievements before reading this book, so you can fully appreciate its richness.
The political life of a complex man in his times. 8 Nov 2014
By Montana Skyline - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This is not the book that I had expected, but I appreciated the rich detail and enjoyed the balanced telling of the exceptional political career of an important and distinctive player. This is not a "life" of Bacon, but rather a rich context for his life and the political times. I do recommend it for those interested in Bacon or in the remarkable period (roughly 1575-1626) in which he lived, although not as a primer of his philosophy or as a general history.

To be plain: The book barely touches the substance of Bacon's thinking about science or philosophy, which is what we tend to remember about Bacon (as he evidently would have wished), and something that I had anticipated learning more about. For this, look to other treatments or directly to Bacon's writing. Nor is this a general biography of the contemporary sort that analyzes Bacon psychologically, delving into his psyche or social factors shaping him as a child or adult. Rather, this is a thoroughly researched and well-written description of Bacon's political life, fascinating in its detail, and casting much indirect light on the social and political times and many prominent political players. Understand that this light is narrowly focused: Although this is the hay-day not only of Shakespeare but other exceptional literary and historical figures, and of grand events (e.g. the Spanish Armada), most go essentially unmentioned or only provide a context for the ins-and-outs of Bacon's political fortunes. This narrow focus undoubtedly will make the book uninteresting to many general readers, as well as those looking for a broader biographical or social history.

This all being said, Jardine and co-author, Alan Stewart, provide a richly detailed examination of an exceptional political life, as led by a morally complex player in his times, a man of great intelligence, as well as many failings. Ultimately, I not only respected the book for its acute historiography, but was hooked by the authors' well-told tale of Bacon's extraordinary career in the politics and society of his day. Unlike some readers, I was rarely bored, and I think I have a much better appreciation of the man and the political world in which he lived.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Flawed diminishing of a great British genius 12 Mar 2009
By G. H. Romans - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Writing a biography of a famous person carries an ethical responsibility to convey, or at least try to convey, a sense of what made that person great. If one wants to understand the genius and polymath that was Sir Francis Bacon (the authors of this work deny him his title) then this book will lead away from such discoveries. There is evidence of diligent research that makes the book interesting to scholars and by and large it is well written and readable, but Baconians will be offended by its persistently mean-spirited view of a shallow self-serving man, wheeling and dealing in the cause of his own advancement. There is ample evidence that Bacon was loved by contemporaries (friends) who appreciated him as a poet,a philosopher,a wit,a superb speaker and a man of generosity whose contribution to English Rennaissance thought was of inestimable value to mankind.You will not find him here.
6 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Mixed Feelings 8 Feb 2004
By "bookpedlar" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A powerhouse of academic scholarship, this book is the most tedious and boring biography I have ever read. Too many pages on Bacon's political career, too little on his scientific achievements.
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