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Andrew Robinson

The last man who knew everything

In today's world of specialisation, it's virtually impossible to contribute to more than one area of study. Even two centuries ago this was very difficult, but in The last man who knew everything Andrew Robinson tells the story of Thomas Young, who was a prime example of such a polymath. We hear of how Young was an expert in many areas, in particular overthrowing Newton's ideas of light corpuscules with his wave based theory, and deciphering Egyptian heiroglyphics from the Rosetta stone. Young also contributed articles to the Encyclopedia Britannica on a wide range of subjects, and all the while had to spend most of his time on his 'day job' as a doctor.

Young was sometimes criticised for being a dilettante. Robinson shows how this criticism was unfounded - how Young was as much an expert as those who specialised in the subjects concerned, and how such a criticism was most likely to come from those whose ideas were challenged by Young. He may not have been able to develop his ideas into a systematic whole, but that is not unusual for the originator of novel theories. I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in the work of Young or in the problems of being a polymath, either two centuries ago or today.

Amazon.com info
Mass Market Paperback 304 pages  
ISBN: 0452288053
Salesrank: 207003
Weight:0.25 lbs
Published: 2006 Plume
Marketplace:New from $16.95:Used from $3.72
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Amazon.co.uk info
Hardcover 304 pages  
ISBN: 1851684948
Salesrank: 192676
Weight:1.37 lbs
Published: 2006 Oneworld Publications
Marketplace:New from £73.40:Used from £12.44
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Amazon.ca info
Mass Market Paperback 304 pages  
ISBN: 0452288053
Salesrank: 777618
Weight:0.25 lbs
Published: 2006 Plume
Marketplace:New from CDN$ 52.65:Used from CDN$ 10.61
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Product Description
Born in 1773, Thomas Young lived in a pivotal time. The explosion of knowledge that was soon to come made it impossible to be a true polymath—a master of multiple disciplines. Young was the last of the polymaths, and his contributions to science are truly staggering. Challenging the theories of Isaac Newton, he was the first to prove that light is a wave; his work on the Rosetta Stone was instrumental in deciphering the language of the ancient Egyptians; and his study of the human eye led him to formulate the three-color theory of vision, more than a century before it could be proved. And yet, Young was ridiculed and rejected by the scientific establishment throughout his lifetime.

In The Last Man Who Knew Everything, Andrew Robinson returns this forgotten genius to his proper position in the pantheon of great scientific thinkers. Thoroughly researched and elegantly executed, Robinson reveals the humble brilliance of a man whose eclectic genius ostracized him from his peers—but whose extraordinary breakthroughs were indispensable in forming the foundation of modern knowledge.