James A. SecordJul 3, 2015
Visions of Science
Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age
University of Chicago Press 2014
James A. Secord's new book is both deeply enlightening and a pleasure to read. Emerging from the 2013 Sandars Lectures in Bibliography at the Cambridge University Library, Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age (University of Chicago Press, 2014) is a fascinating exploration of books and their readers during a moment of intense transformation in British society. Secord brings us into a period of the nineteenth century when transformations in publishing and an expanded reading public helped create a wide-ranging conversation about science and its possible futures. Out of this utopian moment several works emerged that reflected on the practices and prospects of science, and Secord guides us through seven of them in turn: the dialogues of Humphry Davy's Consolations in Travel, the polemic of Charles Babbage's Reflections on the Decline of Science in England, John Herschel's moralizing Preliminary Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy, Mary Somerville's mathematical On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, Charles Lyell's Principles of Geology, George Combe's phrenological The Constitution of Man, Considered in Relation to External Objects, and Thomas Carlyle's bizarre and wonderful Sartor Resartus. In each case, Secord pays careful attention to the physicality of books and the ways that their readers create and transform them. In addition to being great fun to read, the book will also be helpful for teachers putting together material for undergraduate lecture courses on the history of science and/or book history, and will find a happy home on syllabi for upper-level undergraduate or graduate seminars in the history of books and reading, the sciences and modernity, and many others.