Michael Hunter wins Samuel Pepys prize for ‘Boyle: Between God and Science’
Wednesday, 26 October 2011
Historian Michael Hunter has won the 2011 Samuel Pepys Award for Boyle: Between God and Science, his fascinating biography of 17th-century scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle. Hunter, who is Emeritus Professor of History at Birkbeck College, was awarded the £2,000 prize and a specially commissioned medal last night at a prize dinner held at St Paul’s School, at which Pepys was a scholar.
The biennial Samuel Pepys Award is given to a book which makes the greatest contribution to the understanding of the famous diarist Samuel Pepys, his times or his contemporaries in the interest of encouraging scholarship in this area. The judges of the award were unanimous in their decision. Chair of judges, Ann Sweeney, described it as a “tour de force”:
"From his early life in Ireland, the youngest child of the ambitious Earl of Cork, to his close relationships with two of his sisters after the early loss of his mother and his rather stifling education at Eton College, this is a fascinating portrait of a remarkable man whose strong religious beliefs were balanced by his constant search for explanation in the world of science."
Robert Boyle was one of the key figures in the scientific revolution of the 17th century and a founding member of the Royal Society, ranking alongside Newton and Einstein as one of the world’s most important scientists. Aristocrat and natural philosopher, he was a remarkably wide-ranging and penetrating thinker – pioneering the modern experimental method, championing a novel mechanical view of nature, and reflecting deeply on philosophical and theological issues related to science. But, as Michael Hunter shows, Boyle was also a complex and contradictory personality, fascinated by alchemy and magic and privately plagued with doubts about faith and conscience, which troubled the rational vision he heralded.