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Allan Chapman

Mary Somerville and the world of science

Mary Somerville was an influential figure in nineteenth century science, but the story of her life isn't as well known as one might expect. In this book Allan Chapman helps to spread the word about this example of that peculiarly British phenomenon, the Grand Amateur in science. It isn't simply a biography, it also introduces the reader to what was happening in the scientific community at the time, and one appreciates Chapman's wide knowledge of the history of science. The books seems rather short, but Chapman manages to pack in a lot of information, in his own highly readable style.

As a woman Mary's options were severely limited - maybe we would have a Somerville's law if things had been otherwise, but Chapman points out the futility of 'What if?' As it was she played a very important part in encouraging the participation of women in science.

It is interesting to note that Mary's success, in particular as an author came later in life - she was over 50 when her first book was published and was still writing at 89

Chapman also looks at Mary's attitude to religion, showing how she could maintain a firm belief despite disagreeing with what many churchmen were saying  |  Chronon Critical Points  |  Recent Science Book Reviews