The Curious Life of Robert Hooke: The Man Who Measured London

Robert Hooke's name is familiar to most of us only because of "Hooke's Law", f = - kx, which describes the potential for a harmonic oscillator. I became aware of some of the other contributions of this remarkable man by reading one of Lisa Jardine's previous books, "Ingenious Pursuits", which was my pick for May, 2000. When I saw her more extensive biography of Hooke, I was eager to read more. Hooke was involved in most of the scientific, technological, and public issues of the London of his time. As Curator of Experiments for the newly-founded Royal Society, he was expected to come up with a new experiment for each monthly meeting of the organization. These were not simple "demonstrations" of known principles, but experiments at the forefront of science, and most of them required the invention and construction of new instruments. By all accounts, Hooke was an absolute genius at this. More incredible is that he was able to meet this obligation at the same time as he worked as an assistant to Robert Boyle, and with Christopher Wren to supervise the reconstruction of London after the Great Fire of 1666. Because the reconstruction included the widening of many streets, there were innumerable conflicts over property rights. Hooke managed to keep all of these things going, and to also design several important public buildings. Hooke also had the ability to offend. Isaac Newton got so angry with him over the theory of gravity, that he had Hooke's name removed from the minutes of the Royal Society and campaigned against his receiving credit for his scientific contributions.

Publication information
Pick Attribution: 

Lisa Jardine

Publication Date: 
Thursday, January 1, 2004