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In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind
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W. W. Norton & Company 2015
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The extraordinary life and ideas of one of the greatest—and most neglected—minds in history.


Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was an English writer, physician, and philosopher whose work has inspired everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf to Stephen Jay Gould. In an intellectual adventure like Sarah Bakewell's book about Montaigne, How to Live, Hugh Aldersey-Williams sets off not just to tell the story of Browne's life but to champion his skeptical nature and inquiring mind.


Mixing botany, etymology, medicine, and literary history, Aldersey-Williams journeys in his hero's footsteps to introduce us to witches, zealots, natural wonders, and fabulous creatures of Browne's time and ours. We meet Browne the master prose stylist, responsible for introducing hundreds of words into English, including electricity, hallucination, and suicide. Aldersey-Williams reveals how Browne's preoccupations—how to disabuse the credulous of their foolish beliefs, what to make of order in nature, how to unite science and religion—are relevant today.


In Search of Sir Thomas Browne is more than just a biography—it is a cabinet of wonders and an argument that Browne, standing at the very gates of modern science, remains an inquiring mind for our own time. As Stephen Greenblatt has written, Browne is "unnervingly one of our most adventurous contemporaries."

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Format:
Adobe EPUB eBook, Kindle Book, OverDrive Read
Street Date:
06/15/2015
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780393243116
ASIN:
B00OD8Z3WA
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APA Citation (style guide)

Hugh Aldersey-Williams. (2015). In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind. W. W. Norton & Company.

Chicago / Turabian - Author Date Citation (style guide)

Hugh Aldersey-Williams. 2015. In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind. W. W. Norton & Company.

Chicago / Turabian - Humanities Citation (style guide)

Hugh Aldersey-Williams, In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

MLA Citation (style guide)

Hugh Aldersey-Williams. In Search of Sir Thomas Browne: The Life and Afterlife of the Seventeenth Century's Most Inquiring Mind. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Note! Citation formats are based on standards as of July 2022. Citations contain only title, author, edition, publisher, and year published. Citations should be used as a guideline and should be double checked for accuracy.
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      • bioText: Hugh Aldersey-Williams is the author of many books, including The Tide, Anatomies, Periodic Tales, and The Most Beautiful Molecule, a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in Norfolk, England.
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title
In Search of Sir Thomas Browne
fullDescription

The extraordinary life and ideas of one of the greatest—and most neglected—minds in history.

Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was an English writer, physician, and philosopher whose work has inspired everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf to Stephen Jay Gould. In an intellectual adventure like Sarah Bakewell's book about Montaigne, How to Live, Hugh Aldersey-Williams sets off not just to tell the story of Browne's life but to champion his skeptical nature and inquiring mind.

Mixing botany, etymology, medicine, and literary history, Aldersey-Williams journeys in his hero's footsteps to introduce us to witches, zealots, natural wonders, and fabulous creatures of Browne's time and ours. We meet Browne the master prose stylist, responsible for introducing hundreds of words into English, including electricity, hallucination, and suicide. Aldersey-Williams reveals how Browne's preoccupations—how to disabuse the credulous of their foolish beliefs, what to make of order in nature, how to unite science and religion—are relevant today.

In Search of Sir Thomas Browne is more than just a biography—it is a cabinet of wonders and an argument that Browne, standing at the very gates of modern science, remains an inquiring mind for our own time. As Stephen Greenblatt has written, Browne is "unnervingly one of our most adventurous contemporaries."

reviews
      • premium: False
      • source: Jim Holt;New York Times Book Review
      • content: A delightful portrait.
      • premium: False
      • source: Jeffrey Collins;Wall Street Journal
      • content: [F]ascinating.... [A] cleverly constructed and amusing book, on a subject deserving of fresh attention.
      • premium: False
      • source: Financial Times (UK)
      • content: A triumph. With humour, humility and intelligent generosity, Aldersey-Williams brings Sir Thomas Browne splendidly to life, urns and all.
      • premium: False
      • source: Literary Review (UK)
      • content: Engaging and thoughtful.... Like some of the most compelling biographers, Aldersey-Williams partly inhabits his subject.
      • premium: False
      • source: Sunday Herald (UK)
      • content: Superb.... Aldersey-Williams has produced not a standard biography but a fascinating genre-bending melange of life story, medicine, science and human culture.... With luck this fine tribute will bring Browne the wider readership he richly deserves.
      • premium: False
      • source: Philip Ball
      • content: This is just the kind of celebration Sir Thomas Browne needs and deserves: not a conventional biography but a meditation filled with intellectual curiosity, tolerance, humane observation, and gentle wit. It shows Browne as a man caught in the currents of his times while musing on timeless questions—and, like Aldersey-Williams, determined to weigh up the evidence without dogmatism, and to enjoy the richness of the world.
      • premium: False
      • source: Javier Marías
      • content: A wonderfully erratic, promenading book, in which we see how different, yet how similar we still are today to that most serene, most enigmatic science pioneer and literary master, Sir Thomas Browne, whose prose style is one of the highest peaks in English literature, according to Borges and to my humble self.
      • premium: False
      • source: Shelf Awareness, Starred Review
      • content: [T]he intellectual equivalent of a buddy road trip.
      • premium: True
      • source: Publisher's Weekly
      • content:

        April 13, 2015
        In this delightful study, part biography and part history of both science and literature, English science writer Aldersey-Williams (Anatomies) revives the thought of Sir Thomas Browne, a 17th-century writer, physician, and philosopher, for modern readers. Browne studied medicine at Montpellier, Padua, and Leiden, eventually opening a practice in Norwich. Over the next 50 years, his insatiable curiosity and his wide-ranging interests led him to produce studies about a diverse array of topics. Aldersey-Williams leads the reader through Browne’s works, illuminating his innovative ideas as well as the philosophical outlook that motivated him. Religio Medici, Browne’s first and perhaps most famous work, was a rationalist discussion of religion that ended up on the papal index of prohibited books and put Browne “in the excellent company of Rabelais, Galileo, Bacon, Hobbes and Spinoza.” He later examined plants, hoping to discover signs of the original Garden of Eden, and dabbled in natural history, collecting notes about animals as varied as bitterns, owls, sperm whales, and moles. Browne, like a scientific Shakespeare, also introduced many neologisms that remain in the English language today, such as medical, precarious, insecurity, and hallucination. Aldersey-Williams’s brilliant reflections encourage us to pick up Browne and read him for ourselves. Illus.

      • premium: True
      • source: Kirkus
      • content:

        April 1, 2015
        A biography of the peerless 17th-century English writer and scientist that finds new relevance in his deeply observant, encyclopedic writings about man and nature. Living in the same county as his subject, physician and philosopher Thomas Browne (1605-1682), English science writer Aldersey-Williams (Anatomies: A Cultural History of the Human Body, 2013, etc.) became fascinated by Browne's poise on the cusp of the modern, while still "happily in thrall to the ancient world and its mysteries." His study of Browne's work attempts to bring his subject back to engage current disputes about the place of religion in science, how to recognize and dispel "vulgar beliefs," and how to face death. (Indeed, there is an imagined, somewhat corny interview between Browne and the author.) Browne's sentences, borne of careful deliberation, natural observation, and personal confession, are masterpieces in themselves. They gained the admiration of an elite cadre of writers, such as Herman Melville (whose chapter on "Cetology" from Moby-Dick owes a great debt to Browne's best-known opus Pseudodoxia Epidemica), Jorge Luis Borges, and W.G. Sebald (Aldersey-Williams' ambulatory digressions, punctuated with curious photographs, are distinctly Sebald-ian). While Browne's scientific work, steeped in the ancient writers, was too mysterious or wacky to be considered modern-day science (exceptions were his discovery of "Morgellons" disease and his obsession with the quincunx form in nature), his explorations of plants and animals produced all kinds of discoveries and, most importantly, words. Browne coined nearly 800 new words, which essentially opened a whole new way of speaking about the natural world-e.g., "electricity," "medical," "amphibious," "incontrovertible," and "ferocious." In reintroducing this singular thinker and writer, which Aldersey-Williams calls his "obsession," the author finds fresh insight. An elegant, pleasantly obsessive study of a "life of tolerance, humour, serenity and untiring curiosity."

      • premium: True
      • source: Library Journal
      • content:

        May 1, 2015

        Aldersey-Williams (Anatomies) thinks readers should familiarize themselves with the writings of Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82). And understandably so, since Browne remains relatively unknown, yet offers some of the poignancy of Montaigne, the expressive creativity of language of Shakespeare, the skeptical tolerance of a modern, and the empirical outlook of a scientist. The author suggests that Browne has relevance to our generation because of his thoughts on life and death, order in nature, religion and science, and more. Examining his subject's key works, Aldersey-Williams launches into meditations driven by geography (both authors sharing Norfolk, England as a home), personal experiences, and the modern world. The book is our world looked at through the lens of Browne via Aldersey-Williams in a way that takes the reader for a ride across the borders of modernity and back in examination of the intellectual and cultural tensions between the 17th and 21st centuries. VERDICT Aldersey-Williams's passion will make the reader intrigued by this often overlooked writer. This exploration of his interests will attract readers of biography, medicine, natural history, religion, and English literature.--Scott Vieira, Rive Univ. Lib., Houston, TX

        Copyright 2015 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

      • premium: True
      • source: Booklist
      • content:

        June 1, 2015
        Aldersey-Williams' prologue might seem to almost giddily overstate the case for Sir Thomas Browne (160582) and his contemporary fandom (he notes, Thomas Browne is my obsession ), but it also mightily piques one's interest in this seventeenth-century wordsmith (and physician and philosopher), who is still being quoted and who has captured many eyes (his fans include Samuel Johnson, Edgar Allen Poe, Virginia Woolf, Jorge Luis Borges, and W. G. Sebald). Aldersey-Williams' biography does fine justice to this happy, thoughtful, imaginative man, who not only coined such terms as medical, precarious, and hallucination but also tackled the religion-science schism in a manner that is considerable even in the twenty-first century. And he's witty. Not all of his books are limned in this unusual biography, but some (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646; Urne-Buriall, 1658) are detailed in such chapters as Biography, Animals, Tolerance, and Melancholy. Readers will be the better for having made the acquaintance of this highly intelligent, questioning man, who had the commitment to seeing with his own eyes, and the mental alertness to transfer what is accepted in one place to counter superstition in another. (Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2015, American Library Association.)

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shortDescription

The extraordinary life and ideas of one of the greatest—and most neglected—minds in history.

Sir Thomas Browne (1605–1682) was an English writer, physician, and philosopher whose work has inspired everyone from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Jorge Luis Borges, Virginia Woolf to Stephen Jay Gould. In an intellectual adventure like Sarah Bakewell's book about Montaigne, How to Live, Hugh Aldersey-Williams sets off not just to tell the story of Browne's life but to champion his skeptical nature and inquiring mind.

Mixing botany, etymology, medicine, and literary history, Aldersey-Williams journeys in his hero's footsteps to introduce us to witches, zealots, natural wonders, and fabulous creatures of Browne's time and ours. We meet Browne the master prose stylist, responsible for introducing hundreds of words into English, including electricity, hallucination, and suicide. Aldersey-Williams reveals how Browne's preoccupations—how to...

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      • description: Biography & Autobiography / Philosophers
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      • description: Biography & Autobiography / Science & Technology