Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Book Review: "Thinking with Objects"

I've become quite interested in the history of science in recent years and have consequently been trying to read somewhat more extensively in that area. My latest foray into the subject is Domenico Bertoloni Meli's Thinking with Objects: The Transformation of Mechanics in the Seventeenth Century (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006). Meli argues that by examining the relatively common tools used in scientific experimentation during the seventeenth century (by which he means things like the lever, the inclined plane, the pendulum, &c.) we can come to a more complete understanding of scientific study that combines the practical and the theoretical and is less prone to anachronistic conclusions.

Through a thematic and roughly chronological overview of how various scientists (from Galileo to Newton, give or take a few) used and understood objects in their studies of physical phenomena, Meli offers what must be considered as comprehensive a study of this topic as has ever been undertaken (or is likely to be undertaken in the future).

The part of this book I found most intriguing (probably not surprisingly) was Meli's examination of the changes in scientific publishing through the seventeenth century, and the different choices of format, language, and writing style utilized in presenting works of scientific interest. The analysis of Isaac Newton's Principia Mathematica was also very enlightening.

Clearly the result of meticulous research and extensive study, I suspect this work will stand the test of time as a fine examination of the role of objects in mechanical study during the seventeenth century. Recommended for anyone curious about such things.