Historian Michael Hunter has won the 2011 Samuel Pepys Award for his fascinating biography of 17th-century scientist and philosopher Robert Boyle.
Boyle: Between God and Science by Michael Hunter has been awarded the biennial Samuel Pepys Award, which 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. 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 judges of the Samuel Pepys 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.
Boyle: Between God and Science is the first biography of Boyle in a generation, and the culminating achievement of a world-renowned expert on the scientist. Deftly navigating Boyle’s voluminous published works as well as his personal letters and papers, Hunter’s complete and intimate account gives us the man rather than the myth, the troubled introvert as well as the public campaigner. Lively, perceptive and full of original insights, this is the definitive account of a remarkable man and the changing world in which he lived.
Boyle: Between God and Science is available now from Yale University Press.