An intimate, accessible history of British intellectual development across the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, through the story of one family
This book recounts the story of three Cambridge-educated Englishmen and the women with whom they chose to share their commitment to reason in all parts of their lives. The reason this family embraced was an essentially human power with the potential to generate true insight into all aspects of the world. In exploring the ways reason permeated three generations of English experience, this book casts new light on key developments in English cultural and political history, from the religious conformism of the eighteenth century through the Napoleonic era into the Industrial Revolution and prosperity of the Victorian age. At the same time, it restores the rich world of the essentially meditative, rational sciences of theology, astronomy, mathematics, and logic to their proper place in the English intellectual landscape. Following the development of their views over the course of an eventful one hundred years of English history illuminates the fine structure of ways reason still operates in our world.
Joan L. Richards is emerita professor of history and director of the Program of Science, Society, and Technology at Brown University.
“This compelling and wide-ranging family narrative adopts a highly perceptive and novel approach to the transition from the rationalist Enlightenment to the religious, political and mathematical conflicts of Victorian Britain.”—Simon Schaffer, coauthor of Leviathan and the Air-Pump
“This epic masterpiece explores the connections between philosophy, mathematics, spiritualism and faith across successive generations of an utterly extraordinary family. I couldn’t put it down.”—James A. Secord, author of Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age
“This fascinating family saga traces how reason became lived experience in the religion, politics, science, mathematics, spiritualism, and personal tragedy in three generations of an English family. Beautifully written, Generations of Reason vividly evokes how a commitment to living reason unfolded against the backdrop of a century of revolution, reform, and transformation.”—Lorraine Daston, author of Against Nature
“This magnificent book analyses the interlinked lives of three generations of extraordinary thinkers who each grappled with the challenges of integrating their spiritual commitments with powerful and persuasive new ideas about rationality and reason—ideas that increasingly undermined their faith. In a sweeping family saga, Joan Richards’ deep expertise reveals the burning concerns of a tightly knit circle of uniquely interesting men and women as they explored ways of living and believing, moving in different directions through the foundation of Unitarianism to a trust in numbers and mathematical rationality for some and spiritual theosophy for others.”—Janet Browne, author of Charles Darwin: A Biography
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