Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers by Tamara Plakins Thornton
In this engagingly written biography, Tamara Plakins Thornton delves into the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a man Thomas Jefferson once called a “meteor in the hemisphere.” Bowditch was a mathematician, astronomer, navigator, seafarer, and business executive whose Enlightenment-inspired perspectives shaped nineteenth-century capitalism while transforming American life more broadly. Enthralled with the precision and certainty of numbers and the unerring regularity of the physical universe, Bowditch operated and represented some of New England’s most powerful institutions—from financial corporations to Harvard College—as clockwork mechanisms. By examining Bowditch’s path-breaking approaches to institutions, as well as the political and social controversies they provoked, Thornton’s biography sheds new light on the rise of capitalism, American science, and social elites in the early republic.
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