Radical. I didn’t know much about the life of Joseph Priestley prior to reading Steven Johnsons’s new book, The Invention of Air. Science, religion and politics combine and clash in the 18th century, and Priestley is both instigator and victim of much conflict. Priestley’s scientific experiments led him to understand that plants produce gases and helped frame a better understanding of chemistry. Johnson does a great job in presenting Priestley as a radical, and places his science and theology in the context of that era. After his house in England is burned by rioters who disagree with Priestley’s views, he leaves for America with his family, and becomes a close advisor to Thomas Jefferson. The sharing of information among practitioners of science receives a lot of attention in The Invention of Air, and increases a reader’s understanding of the collaboration and sharing of ideas that was prevalent, especially in the many coffee houses and scientific organizations.
Rating: Three-star (Recommended)