William Crookes' long life was one of unbroken scientific and business activity, culminating in his appointment as President of the Royal Society in 1913. Throughout his career he was an important science journalist, the discoverer of thallium, the inventor of the radiometer, investigator of cathode rays and the vacuum, a spectroscopist of significance in rare earth chemistry, and a spokesman for a chemical solution to the problems with the world's food supplies. He was also, and perhaps most controversially, an occultist who played a significant role in spiritualism in the 1870s, and was involved with D.D. Home (Browning's Mr Sludge) and other notable mediums of the day. Previous literature on Crookes has tended to focus on his involvement with the spiritualists, sometimes to the detriment of his many scientific achievements. This, the first biography of William Crookes, gives us the whole man: one of the most complex, public, and interesting figures in the history of science. Professor Brock guides us through the abundant catalogue of Crookes' accomplishments, placing his scientific activities in the context of the business of making a living from science - something that Crookes did principally as a science journalist and editor with his Chemical News (the model for today's Nature), and by business enterprises ranging from water analysis, sewerage schemes, and goldmining to the design of electric light bulbs. We also see Crookes in the lab, as an independent researcher, and learn the processes behind his discovery of thallium, his investigations into matter and energy, and his crucial work on cathode rays. We see the public man, the celebrity who was much sought after for his opinions on the latest discovery, and who was widely regarded as Britain's leading scientist at the beginning of the twentieth century. Scientist, spiritualist, entrepreneur: Sir William Crookes' extraordinary life and many endeavours provide a unique window into Victorian and Edwardian science and industry.
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William H. Brock, Emeritus Professor of History of Science, University of Leicester, UKReview:
...Brock brings Crookes alive in masterful detail and with literary style in this novel-like yet definitive history...Highly recommended. All libraries. --Choice
Brock, using more than 800 published articles by Crookes, as well as his journalism and surviving manuscripts, most important his laboratory notebooks, has written a convincing (I would almost be tempted to say definitive) account of Crookes's varied life. ... Like all good biographers Brock has cast light onto far more than the subject. ... Crookes emerges as a major figure in 19th- and 20th-century science, and historians will long be grateful to Brock for tracking Crookes's role in the development of science in virtually all its aspects. -- Chemical Heritage
To write the biography of such a varied man is a challenge, but Brock has met that challenge in superb fashion... The last biography of Crookes was written by Fournier d'Albe in 1923. Brock's achievement is such that there should be no need to write another for at least 86 more years. -- Bulletine for the History of Chemistry
Brock's is a readable, well researched, doorstop biography - an exhaustive account of an exhausting life. --Medical History
Who knew that William Crookes was quite so fascinating in quite so many ways? ... William Brock's masterly examination of this "crucial" (I cannot resist recalling the Latin pun of which Crookes himself was so fond) figure not only presents us with a much-needed panoramic understanding of Crookes himself, but provides us with an invaluable lens that he employs to bring into focus the multifarious functions of science in Victorian culture. --Ambix
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