cover image Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

James A. Secord. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (256p) ISBN 978-0-226-20328-7

University of Cambridge historian Secord (Victorian Sensation) delves into a largely forgotten era in the development of scientific understanding in Britain, concentrating on seven books from the early 19th century that were written and marketed for the working classes. The fact that these scientific explanations of geology, mathematics, biology and even proto-psychology were accessible to those of modest means grew from a utopian desire for "the complete reformation of society through knowledge," and the belief that by understanding the "practices of science" people would become more civilized. One of the most read was Mary Sommerville's, "On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences," a study of mathematics blended with contemporary scientific discoveries%E2%80%94including electro-magnetism%E2%80%94in which she encouraged both men and women "to consider a future in which mathematical knowledge would be a commonplace." Secord contextualizes science popularization in light of radical social movements and the influence they had on later scientists like Charles Darwin%E2%80%94while also engendering fierce opposition from some religious leaders. The period's atmosphere of open inquiry serves as one of the foundations of modern science and Secord's work will intrigue those who may not have considered how the spread of interest in science changed Britain and the world. (Nov.)