No one has given the extraordinary Thomas Young the all-round examination he so richly deserves - until now. Celebrated biographer, Andrew Robinson portrays a man who solved mystery after mystery in the face of ridicule and rejection, and never sought fame. Physics textbooks identify Thomas Young (1773-1829) as the experimenter who first proved that light is a wave - not a stream of corpuscles as Newton proclaimed. In any book on the eye and vision, Young is the London physician who showed how the eye focuses and proposed the three-color theory of vision confirmed only in 1959. Open a book on ancient Egypt and you will find Young credited for his crucial detective work in deciphering the Rosetta Stone. It is hard to grasp how much he knew. Invited to contribute to a new edition of the "Encyclopedia Britannica", Young offered the following subjects: Alphabet, Annuities, Attraction, Capillary Action, Cohesion, Colour, Dew, Egypt, Eye, Focus, Friction, Halo, Hieroglyphic, Hydraulics, Motion, Resistance, Ship, Sound, Strength, Tides, Waves, and anything of a medical nature. He asked that all his contributions be kept anonymous.
While not yet thirty he gave a course of lectures at the Royal Institution covering virtually all of known science. But polymathy made him unpopular in the academy. An early attack on his wave theory of light was so scathing that English physicists buried it for nearly two decades until it was rediscovered in France. But slowly, after his death, great scientists recognized his genius. Today, in an age of professional specialization unimaginable in 1800, polymathy still disturbs us. Is this kind of curiosity selfish, even irresponsible? Either way, Young's character has a quality all but lost in our narcissistic culture. His is the story of a driven yet modest hero, someone who could make the grandiose claim to have been the last man who knew everything, but for the fact that he cared less about what others thought of him than for the joys of an unbridled pursuit of knowledge.
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(234mm x 156mm x 27mm)
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
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Author Biography - Andrew Robinson
Andrew Robinson is the author of more than a dozen books, including four biographies. Since 1994 he has been the literary editor of The Times Higher Educational Supplement in London.