Roger Bacon takes us back to thirteenth-century Europe, to the early years of the great universities, where learning was spiced with the danger of mob violence and a terrifyingly repressive religious censorship.
Roger Bacon, a humble and devout English friar, seems an unlikely figure to challenge the orthodoxy of his day – yet this unworldly man risked his life to establish the basis for true scientific knowledge.
Born around 1220, Bacon was passionately interested in the natural world and how things worked. Banned from writing on such dangerous topics by his Order, it was only when a new Pope proved sympathetic that he began compiling his encyclopaedia of knowledge, on everything from optics to alchemy - the synopsis took him a year and ran to 800,000 words, but he was never to complete the work itself. Sadly, the enlightened Pope died before he could read Bacon's remarkable work, and Bacon was tried as a magician and incarcerated for ten years.
Legend transformed Bacon into a sorcerer, ‘Doctor Mirabilis’, yet he taught that all magic was fraudulent, based on human ability to deceive, and we can recognise today that his books were the first flowering of the scientific knowledge that would transform our world. He advanced the understanding of optics, he demanded a new calendar that prefigured the Gregorian reform, made geographical breakthroughs later used by Columbus, predicted everything from horseless carriages to the telescope, and stressed the importance of mathematics to science, a significance that would not be recognized for 400 years.
Roger Bacon was a polymath, prepared to think beyond the doctrine of the time, despite being constrained by the by the all pervading influence of religious dogma... The author’s talent for giving the reader an almost tangible feeling for the atmosphere of 13th Century Europe in general and of England in particular was marvellous – I found it fascinating - Professor Heinz Wolff, founder of the Brunel Institute for Bioengineering and presenter of science-based TV programmes from Great Experiments Which Changed the World to the Great Egg Race.
When science and Bacon occur in the same sentence, the Bacon meant is usually Francis ... Clegg's enthralling book launches Roger Bacon's re-revival. Ray Olson, American Library Association
In providing a readable short account of Bacon's life in the historical context of his time, Mr Clegg has performed a valuable service. The Sunday Telegraph
There is a strong case for Bacon to be given long-merited due... Clegg writes about the medieval world and Bacon's investigations into optics and mathematics with a contemporary liveliness that keeps the story moving. New Scientist
Brian Clegg uncovers the realities of life in a medieval university and friary... both a fascinating biography and a picture of the age. Education on the Internet
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