Skip to main content
Shopping cart: items Cart

Reading the Book of Nature

How Eight Best Sellers Reconnected Christianity and the Sciences on the Eve of the Victorian Age

Reading the Book of Nature

How Eight Best Sellers Reconnected Christianity and the Sciences on the Eve of the Victorian Age

Publication supported by the Susan Elizabeth Abrams Fund in History of Science

A powerful reimagining of the world in which a young Charles Darwin developed his theory of evolution. 

When Charles Darwin returned to Britain from the Beagle voyage in 1836, the most talked-about scientific books of the day were the Bridgewater Treatises. This series of eight works was funded by a bequest of the last Earl of Bridgewater and written by leading men of science appointed by the president of the Royal Society to explore "the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God, as manifested in the Creation." Securing public attention beyond all expectations, the series offered Darwin’s generation a range of approaches to one of the great questions of the age: how to incorporate the newly emerging disciplinary sciences into Britain’s overwhelmingly Christian culture.  
  
Drawing on a wealth of archival and published sources, including many unexplored by historians, Jonathan R. Topham examines how and to what extent the series contributed to a sense of congruence between Christianity and the sciences in the generation before the fabled Victorian conflict between science and religion. Building on the distinctive insights of book history and paying close attention to the production, circulation, and use of the books, Topham offers new perspectives on early Victorian science and the subject of science and religion as a whole.  

544 pages | 47 halftones, 2 tables | 6 x 9

History: British and Irish History, History of Ideas

History of Science

Religion: Religion and Society

Reviews

"This is a remarkable book, based on a lifetime's immersion in early nineteenth-century science, theology, and publishing culture. It offers a new way of thinking about the relations between religion and science, grounding this in material practices of reading, church-going, and daily devotion. There are wonderful discussions here of individual readers and the ways in which the Bridgewaters were used for everything from mourning recently deceased relatives to classifying museum collections. Its knowledge of the primary sources is unparalleled, and it is thorough, fair, and judicious in referencing the extensive literature on the topic. A vitally important book on a major subject."

James A. Secord, author of Visions of Science: Books and Readers at the Dawn of the Victorian Age

"This is not only a definitive study of this important series of books, but it also offers perceptive insights into questions about the historical relations between science and religion. It sheds considerable light on publishing and reading practices and, more generally, on the social and intellectual culture of mid-nineteenth-century Britain. The research is thorough and painstaking, the writing is lively and interesting, and the arguments persuasive. Topham provides an account of the Bridgewater Treatises that is unparalleled in scope and erudition."

Peter Harrison, University of Queensland

"In his long-anticipated study of the Bridgewater Treatises, Topham has given us a deeply captivating, beautifully written, meticulously researched, and vitally important book that positively sparkles with new insights. While discussing how the Bridgewater Treatises persuaded British audiences that science was religiously safe, he simultaneously explores the reconfiguring of religious practices inextricably linked to the transformation in scientific and religious publishing in the 1820s and ‘30s. Topham’s book is essential reading for scholars who wish to understand science, religion, and print culture in the decades prior to the Victorian era."

Bernard Lightman, York University

Table of Contents

Note for Teachers
Introduction: Reading the Book of Nature
Prelude: Trouble over Bridgewater

Part 1 Writing
1 Becoming a Bridgewater Author
2 Writing God into Nature

Part 2 Publishing
3 Distributing Design
4 Science Serialized

Part 3 Reading
5 Science and the Practice of Religion
6 Preachers and Protagonists
7 Being a Christian “Man of Science”
8 Religion and the Practice of Science

Conclusion: “The Fashionable Reign of the Bridgewater Treatises”
Acknowledgments
Appendix A Note on Currency and the Value of Money
Appendix B British Editions of the Bridgewater Treatises
Appendix C British Reviews of the Bridgewater Treatises, 1833–38
Works Cited
Index

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press