A Vision of Modern Science

Tyndall CoverPublisher: Palgrave Macmillan (2011)
ISBN: 9780230110533

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A Vision of Modern Science examines a pivotal moment in the history of science through the career of the historically neglected Victorian physicist John Tyndall. The book reveals him to be an important figure of the period, whose scientific discoveries and philosophy of science in society are still relevant today.

John Tyndall dedicated much of his career to establishing the scientist as a cultural authority. His campaign to free science from the restraints of theology caused a national uproar, and in his popular books and lectures he promoted scientific education for all classes. Though he was often labeled a materialist, religion played a large role in his vision of science, which drew on the philosophies of Thomas Carlyle and Ralph Waldo Emerson as well as on the beliefs of Tyndall’s mentor, the renowned scientist Michael Faraday. Tyndall’s ideas influenced the development of modern science, and this book argues that, in his efforts to create an authoritative role for scientists in society, he played a significant role in 19th-century history.


“DeYoung’s strategy … is to trace the genealogy of ideas and arguments. She sets out to trace the pedigree of debates and situate them in the intellectual culture of the age. The emphasis, therefore, is on reading and philosophical exchange.”

Victorian Studies

“Beautifully written and extensively rich in detail, A Vision of Modern Science sets out to show how Tyndall redefined both popular and specialist notions of science during the Victorian period. DeYoung has made an important contribution to the history of science by reminding scholars of the significant role Tyndall played in the development of science. Her book should therefore be considered the go-to biography of this important historical figure.”

Isis, A Journal of the History of Science Society

“In her book-length study of an important—but somewhat neglected—Victorian physicist, Ursula DeYoung has illuminated the many facets of John Tyndall’s life and thought. The heart of the book is her compelling insight into the central irony of Tyndall’s career: his success in changing the nature of science, and redefining its place in British culture, was achieved at the cost of his own reputation. Engaging and challenging, this is an important contribution to our understanding of how Tyndall’s generation transformed science forever.”

— Bernard Lightman, Science and Technology Studies, York University,
author of Victorian Popularizers of Science

“Compared to Humphry Davy and Michael Faraday, his predecessors at the Royal Institution, John Tyndall has been neglected in the historical literature. DeYoung provides a much needed corrective which above all shows the crucial role that Tyndall played in developing our idea of what constitutes modern science and its place in society.”

— Frank A. J. L. James, Professor of the History of Science at the Royal Institution, London