Tuesday 3 March 2015

Book Review: The Sensorium of God by Stuart Clark

Sparks of Genius – The momentous clash of Isaac Newton and Robert Hooke.

This is the second in Stuart Clark's trilogy, including The Sky'sDark Labyrinth, The Sensorium of God and The Day Without Yesterday. Each takes a pivotal moment in the evolution of science and dramatises it in fiction.

From the back cover

It is the late seventeenth century and the movement of the planets remains a mystery despite the revolutionary work of Johannes Kepler, Galileo Galilei and Tycho Brahe almost a hundred years before.

Edmond Halley - dynamic adventurer and astronomer - seeks the help of Isaac Newton in unravelling the problem, but, though obsessed with understanding the orbits of the planets, Newton has problems of his own. The reclusive mathematician and alchemist has a guilty secret. He stole some of his ideas from Robert Hooke, and the quarrelsome experimentalist is demanding recognition.

While capable of contemplating the loftiest ideals and theories, the three men are just as quick to argue, and their grudges could derail the quest for scientific truth. The men's lives and work clash as Europe is pushed headlong towards the Age of the Enlightenment and science is catapulted into its next seismic collision with religion.

The Sensorium of God by Stuart Clark

Stuart Clark's effortless writing style and vivid period descriptions bring to life a story that is so often related in dusty, dry academic texts. The book is a joy to read. Stuart Clark's deep knowledge, not only of the historical setting, but of the underlying science and astronomy and the lives of the scientists involved, ensures that this story is not only engaging, but it is historically accurate. This is a book which carries a considerable promise, whether your background is in science or not. I am happy to say that Stuart Clark does not fail to deliver the goods.

This story focusses on the events surrounding Isaac Newton, Edmond Halley and Robert Hooke at the time when Newton was working on perhaps his most famous works, his Principia and Opticks. We also meet such notable characters as Gottfried Leibniz, John Flamsteed, Samuel Pepys, Christopher Wren and a veritable roll call of other well known people of the age.

It is a time when parliament and the crown are vying for power, much of which rested with the monarch, who used the church as a vehicle for control. We begin at the time of Charles II, and in short time, we see James II ascend to the throne, followed by William and Mary. Heresy was still a capital offence, and religious oppression was perpetrated by Catholics and Protestants alike. Along with the suppression of any religious views that conflicted with church doctrine, any scientific claims that could be – even at at stretch – considered out of line with church doctrine, could lead to accusations of heresy.

In these times of political and religious instability, prominent scientists such as Newton, Halley and Liebniz walked the fine line between provoking religious or political wrath, and becoming the victims of the deeds or misdeeds of others.

We see the fascinating relationship between Newton, his alchemy and his science, and his sexual curiosity about the young mathematician Fatio, as well as the unconventional relationship between the irascible Hooke and his niece, Grace.

Stuart Clarke weaves a compelling tale, with fascinating insights into the flawed characters of Newton, Halley and Hooke. He brings the people and locations to life so well that you can see them and smell them. This is fine writing and story-telling, which never loses its pace and depth, and with no shortage of action and intrigue.

About Dr. Stuart Clark, from his website:

Image courtesy: Simon Wallace,
Stuart Clark is a widely read astronomy journalist. His career is devoted to presenting the complex world of astronomy to the general public. Stuart holds a first class honours degree and a PhD in astrophysics. He is a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and a former Vice Chair of the Association of British Science Writers. On 9 August 2000, UK daily newspaper The Independent placed him alongside Stephen Hawking and the Astronomer Royal, Professor Sir Martin Rees, as one of the ‘stars’ of British astrophysics teaching.

Currently he divides his time between writing books and, in his capacity of cosmology consultant, writing articles for New Scientist. He is a consultant and writes for the European Space Agency where he was Senior Editor for Space Science for some time. Over the years Stuart has written for amongst others: BBC Sky at Night, BBC Focus, The Times, The Guardian, The Economist, The Times Higher Education Supplement, Daily Express, Astronomy Now, Sky and Telescope and Astronomy. He has written text for an issue of stamps for the Royal Mail. He writes an online blog for the Guardian called Across the Universe, read all around the world.


Stuart Clark's website is www.stuartclark.com, where you will find more information about his writing, fiction and non-fiction, his journalism and much more.