A Professor, A President, and A Meteor

A Professor, A President, and A Meteor

The Birth of American Science

Book - 2011
Average Rating:
Rate this:
Random House, Inc.
When a fiery meteor crash in 1807 lit up the dark early-morning sky in Weston, Connecticut, it did more than startle the few farmers in the sleepy village. More importantly, it sparked the curiosity of Benjamin Silliman, a young chemistry professor at nearby Yale College. His rigorous investigation of the incident started a chain of events that eventually brought the once-low standing of American science to sudden international prominence. And, by coincidence, the event also embroiled Silliman in politics, pitting him against no less an adversary than President Thomas Jefferson.

Based on a wealth of original source documents and interiews with current experts in history, astronomy, and geology, this journalist tells the remarkable story of Benjamin Silliman, arguably America’s first bonafide scientist. In a lively narrative rich with fascinating historical detail, the author documents the primitive state of American science at the time; Silliman’s careful analysis of the meteor samples; and the publication of his conclusions, which contradicted both popular superstitions regarding meteors as ominous portents and a common belief that meteors come from volcanic eruptions on the moon.

She also describes Silliman’s struggles to build a chemistry department at Yale with rudimentary material; new insights into geology that resulted from his analysis of the meteor; and his report to the prestigious French Academy, which raised the prestige of American science. Finally, she discusses the political turbulence of the time, which Silliman could not escape, and how the meteor event was used to drive a wedge between New England and Jefferson.

This is a fascinating vignette of Federal Period America when science on this continent was still in its infancy, but was just beginning to make its mark.

Book News
Prince (journalism, Quinnipiac University) is a fervent advocate for public recognition of Yale professor Benjamin Silliman (1779-1864). She builds her biography around his investigation of a meteor crash in Connecticut in 1807. Retrieving a fragment of the meteor, Silliman subjected it to scientific examination, including splitting it to analyze the interior. The papers he presented on his findings received respect in both America and Europe. He also gave lectures to fascinated citizens that included showing pieces of the meteorite. In doing this, he popularized science for the American people. His conflict with Jefferson was political and really peripheral to the story. Jefferson was certainly interested in science and curious about the meteor. The information is given in a disjointed manner. In her attempt to demonstrate Silliman's importance to science, Prince overstates the extent of ignorance among the general population, something disproved through her own quotations from observers. Annotation ©2011 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)

Blackwell Publishing
When a fiery meteor crash in 1807 lit up the dark early-morning sky in Weston, Connecticut, it did more than startle the few farmers in the sleepy village. More importantly, it sparked the curiosity of Benjamin Silliman, a young chemistry professor at nearby Yale College. His rigorous investigation of the incident started a chain of events that eventually brought the once-low standing of American science to sudden international prominence. And, by coincidence, the event also embroiled Silliman in politics, pitting him against no less an adversary than President Thomas Jefferson.

Based on a wealth of original source documents and interiews with current experts in history, astronomy, and geology, this journalist tells the remarkable story of Benjamin Silliman, arguably America’s first bonafide scientist. In a lively narrative rich with fascinating historical detail, the author documents the primitive state of American science at the time; Silliman’s careful analysis of the meteor samples; and the publication of his conclusions, which contradicted both popular superstitions regarding meteors as ominous portents and a common belief that meteors come from volcanic eruptions on the moon.

She also describes Silliman’s struggles to build a chemistry department at Yale with rudimentary material; new insights into geology that resulted from his analysis of the meteor; and his report to the prestigious French Academy, which raised the prestige of American science. Finally, she discusses the political turbulence of the time, which Silliman could not escape, and how the meteor event was used to drive a wedge between New England and Jefferson.

This is a fascinating vignette of Federal Period America when science on this continent was still in its infancy, but was just beginning to make its mark.

Publisher: Amherst, N.Y. : Prometheus Books, 2011
ISBN: 9781616142247
1616142243
Characteristics: 254 p. : ill. ; 24 cm

Opinion

From the critics


Community Activity

Comment

Add a Comment

There are no comments for this title yet.

Age

Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.

Summary

Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.

Notices

Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.

Quotes

Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number

Subject Headings

  Loading...

Find it at RCPL

  Loading...
[]
[]
To Top