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Queen Of Science: Personal Recollections of Mary Somerville and over 2 million other books are available for Amazon Kindle . Learn more
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Queen of Science Paperback – 30 Sep 2001

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Canongate Books; Main edition (30 Sept. 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841951366
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841951362
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 12.7 x 3.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,568,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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From the Back Cover

'(Somerville was) certainly the most extraordinary woman in Europe, a mathematician of the very first rank with all the gentleness of a woman ... She is also a great natural philosopher and mineralogist.' Sir David Brewster, inventor of the kaleidoscope (1829)

About the Author

Mary Somerville was born on 26 December 1780 in a manse at Jedburgh, the home of her mother's sister. She was the fifth child of William George Fairfax, a Lieutenant in Nelson's navy (later a Vice-Admiral) and his second wife, Margaret Charters. Four of the couple's seven children survived. They were brought up in Burntisland where Mary Somerville spent her childhood and adolescence. She attended a school in Musselburgh whose chief aim it was to teach girls to be gracious. Despite the obstacles that were put tin her way she pursued her own interests in mathematics and the classics.

In 1804 she married her cousin Samuel Greig and they went to stay in London, but she was left with two young children when her husband died only three years later at the age of twenty-nine. Mary returned to her parents' home where she continued her studies in algebra and geometry.

In 1812 she married another of her cousins, William Somerville, an army doctor. The couple soon moved to London again where William took up a post as physician at the Chelsea Hospital. Mary Somerville continued her studies and was in her early forties when her scientific interests began to make their mark. In 1831 she published a translation of Laplace's Mécanique Céleste originally intended as one of the publications of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge but in the end published by John Murray. This work was soon adopted for courses in Cambridge and made her reputation. It was followed by The Connexion of the Physical Sciences in 1834 and the award of a government pension the following year. Scientists throughout Europe Mary Somerville and her work was widely translated.


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By ECD on 5 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
This is not a biography, nor an autobiography in the usual sense but what its subtitle says - personal recollections of the subject, Mary Somerville. It has a self-evident value as such, unique as a view into her own personality, but if one wants a perspective on this very remarkable woman in her own time and context one will have to look elsewhere.

The text has also given the editor trouble, for it combines Mary Somerville's own words with later posthumous glosses by her daughter, and it isn't always easy (particularly in the opening pages) to sort out who is writing at any particular point. This almost caused me to abandon the book, but the going does get easier later on.
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This is a book that quietly grows on you.
Mary Somerville's life could be a case history for encouraging the education of Women. She achieved in spite of the restrictions and attitudes of her time. That she was outstandingly clever there is no doubt, but her account of the events that were keys or turning points in her search for knowledge is fascinating as well as illuminating. The three sets of papers that this book is extracted from were written in old age yet it is a lively and alert mind that springs forth. Her great gift to Science was to make it intelligible to the general reader and her papers reflect this, she speaks of meeting great scientists as friends and mentors. She records events succinctly but completely so as not to leave questions hanging in the air.

To me this is a wonderful insight on a great life, but, as a previous reviewer points out, the narrator changes to the daughter for periods without warning which causes confusion at times. This is not a technical book in any way, but if you haven't heard of Laplace, the Herschels or Newton and you have no idea of 19th Century European history, or indeed our own, over her lifetime, you will lose much of the enjoyment.
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