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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Even reading about his busy life makes you tired, 20 May 2005
By 
Mr P R Morgan "Peter Morgan" (BATH, Bath and N E Somerset United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703 (Hardcover)
Towards the end of his life, Robert Hooke was worried that many of his inventions would be claimed by others, as had already started to happen. This volume gives much credit to the man who is often overshadowed and almost forgotten - because he was born in an era of many extremely talented individuals.
Stephen Inwood has drawn extensively on material from Hooke's era and more recently to build up a picture of a very busy man, who is now remembered if at all for his work on springs ("Hooke's Law") and his arguments with Isaac Newton. Probably Newton's most famous words ("standing on the shoulders of giants") were written in a letter to Hooke. The weight of history sees the deified Newton crushing to oblivion some of those he stood upon. This was orchestrated more by his ardent admirers than Newton himself, although the father of gravity does not emerge from his debates with Hooke totally exonerated.
There are good insights into the Coffee House culture that was present in the last half of the 17th Century, and the workings of the newly formed Royal Society. Hooke was a pivotal individual in the early years of this august body, and his regular papers and experimental demonstrations were extremely prominent in their weekly meetings for 30 years. Hooke had a grand dream about the usefulness of science, and the expectation that everything would be explainable in the fullness of time, even if not in his lifetime. In short, he had a limitless confidence in the problem solving ability of science, turning his back on superstition that was so prevalent around him.
History has dealt with Robert Hooke too severely, and Inwood helps to address the balance. I am left a little breathless at the speed and scope of the tasks undertaken by Mr Hooke. Hindsight is a treacherous teacher, and can make the obvious trivial, whilst inappropriately assigning connections. Even allowing for the these tendencies, it seems that the legacy of Hooke is far reaching. He was ahead of his time, and could rightly claim to have done the founding work in many important areas [stellar parallax, watches, windmill, barometers, respiratory investigation, vivisection, celestial motion, telescopes, microscopes, navigation, light .......]. In some areas, his pioneering work was lost, and the advances not made again for 150 years.
The book would have benefited from some diagrams of the matters discussed; the mechanisms for watches, or the differences between reflecting and refracting telescopes, for example. This aside, the author does not hide Hooke's flaws, but dispels his reputation of being a bad tempered complainer. Hooke did have several major disagreements with learned gentlemen (Newton, Huygens, Hevelius). However Isaac Newton had similar disputes. What is important is that Hooke also had a large circle of friends, and several individuals with whom he worked successfully for many years (Sir Christopher Wren, Halley, Tompion and Harry Hunt).
Hooke is destined to be forever the bridesmaid, and never the bride. He was TOO busy, and if he started a train of thought, it was as if he had completed it in his own eyes. Many items of investigation were left unfinished, and only restarted when a rival had almost come upon a new or similar solution. This was the cause of many of his difficulties over establishing precedence in scientific matters. Not given the necessary credit, Hooke's work played the part of a catalyst to those in the wider community that was based around the Royal Society.
The final irony is that Hooke accused many at of the time of blatant plagiarism. He did not foresee that a significant number of buildings that he designed (and in many instances, oversaw the construction of) would be attributed others. There is much talk of "Wren churches" rebuilt after the disastrous fire of 1666. Hooke worked on not a few of these. Inwood details his working relationship with Wren, and rightly acknowledges his large contribution to both building design and the 'project management' of getting a building completed. For most people, the contribution of Hooke to building would have been more than enough for a lifetime.
Peter Morgan, Bath, UK (morganp@supanet.com)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The biography of an enlightened polymath, 5 July 2012
By 
Dr. H. A. Jones "Howard Jones" (Wales, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703 (Hardcover)
The Man Who Knew Too Much: The strange and inventive life of Robert Hooke 1635-1703,
By Stephen Inwood, Macmillan, 2002, 514 ff.

This is a comprehensive biography of one of the most versatile of the early scientists. Although few of his discoveries and inventions are known to us today in the form in which Hooke discovered or devised them, since other scientists completed, refined or expanded on his early work, his work formed the foundation of scientific developments in many different fields. Stephen Inwood is a former lecturer in history and now a full-time writer.

Inwood takes us in painstaking detail through all aspects of Hooke's life and the very many projects in which he was involved: sometimes I felt that this degree of detail obscured the significance of some of Hooke's achievements. His principal employer throughout his life was the then newly founded Royal Society; but he worked also at Gresham College and was personal assistant to another famous scientist, Robert Boyle. Hooke was a contemporary of Isaac Newton, but Hooke was not strong in mathematics, so this is where Newton triumphed. Hooke was involved in so very many projects that he usually did not have the time to complete many of them.

Hooke favoured the wave theory of light while Newton thought of light as particles, and the wave theory was subsequently (until Einstein's work) to dominate. Hooke devised an early thermometer, barometer, hygrometer and pocket watch. It was he who designed and built the equipment that Boyle used to establish the gas law named after him; and Hooke established his own law of elasticity in strings and springs. His treatise "Micrographia" is a seminal work, not only on microscopy but dealing with geology and astronomy as well. He realised that fossils were the remains of previously living creatures and that geological formations had not been static since Creation (Hooke was nominally a Christian); only a century or so after Copernicus, Hooke was one of the first to attribute the orbits of the planets around the sun to gravity. In addition to the massive amount of scientific work he achieved, Hooke was also a competent architect and assistant to Christopher Wren in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of 1666. It was Hooke who designed and oversaw the building of the Monument to the Great Fire in London.

This book gives scientific detail only in the broadest terms, so it is quite accessible to non-scientists. It also gives a fascinating picture of London life at the time of the Great Plague and Great Fire, and many of Hooke's contemporaries, like Newton, John Locke, Thomas Hobbes and Samuel Pepys are met in context. For those interested in the history of science or the social history of the time, this is an invaluable book. There is a substantial list of Notes and References and an Index.

Isaac Newton by James Gleick
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5.0 out of 5 stars A most interesting read., 10 Sept. 2009
By 
A. Billingham - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703 (Hardcover)
Still reading it yet, but it certainly gives you an insight into London and what Robert Hook & the Royal Society were upto in the 1600s.
Well written but could do with some diagrams.
Can't wait to get back to it.
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hooke - a true polymath, 29 Jun. 2003
This review is from: The Man Who Knew Too Much: The Inventive Life of Robert Hooke, 1635-1703 (Hardcover)
Newton said that the only reason he could see so far, was because 'he had stood on the shoulders of giants'. Supposedly this was a put down of Hooke, a small man with a hunch back. It turns out not be be quite the case. Newton famously didn't get on with people. Hooke by and large did, even though he had some huge rows along the way. As a consequence of his run in with Newton, he has become rather forgotten. Its unfortunate as he was certainly one of the most inventive minds of the 17th century.
A prolific inventor. He also gave scientific demonstrations throughout his life at the Royal Society. The range was incredible and has to be on the true polymaths of all time.
A comparison with Newton is interesting. Newton, even though he could prove everything, made some quite remarkable guesses that turned out, in the fullness of time, to be correct. The same can be said of Hooke.
Nick
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