Robert Hooke

Introduced by Ruth Scurr

Robert Hooke’s science classic Micrographia changed the way we view the natural world. This beautifully crafted Folio Society edition of the complete text includes all Hooke’s original illustrations and an introduction by historian Ruth Scurr.

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‘A magnificent monument to nature and human understanding.’
  1. Ruth Scurr

It was two o’clock in the morning on 21 January 1665 when Samuel Pepys finally put down his bedtime reading and delivered his famous verdict on Robert Hooke’s work: ‘The most ingenious book that ever I read in my life’.

Hooke's seminal work on microscopy, the study of objects through magnifying lenses and microscopes, presented previously unseen worlds to his readers. His fascinating observations and beautiful descriptions of what he saw had a far-reaching influence, making this one of the most important books in the history of science. The entire text of 1665 is accompanied by the breathtakingly detailed illustrations, including five stunning foldouts, that are the source of the book's enduring fame.

Quarter-bound in blocked cloth, with printed paper sides

Set in Caslon

392 pages

32 black & white illustrations

Including 5 foldouts

Printed and blocked endpapers

Plain slipcase with die-cut circle

11˝ x 7¼˝

Hooke’s magnificent and extraordinarily detailed illustrations of insects and plants have been reproduced for this edition from copies of the first and second editions of Micrographia held at the Bodleian Library and the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford. One of the most celebrated of these images, the extraordinarily accurate depiction of a grey drone-fly, forms the basis of the beautiful blocked endpapers. The edition also includes two important texts which elucidate Micrographia and provide different perspectives of its author. The English antiquary, natural philosopher and writer John Aubrey was a close friend of Hooke’s and he paints an affectionate portrait of ‘a person of great virtue and goodness’, voracious for knowledge from the earliest age. Aubrey’s Life is preceded by a commissioned essay on Hooke’s career and achievements, and the enduring importance of Micrographia, by historian and literary critic Ruth Scurr, whose book John Aubrey: My Own Life was shortlisted for the 2015 Costa Biography Award and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.

‘A groundbreaking thinker and brilliant experimentalist, a founding figure in the European scientific revolution.’
  1. Lisa Jardine

Combining his supreme talents as a technician and a draughtsman, Hooke constructed powerful new lenses, isolated specimens – in one case, plying an ant with brandy to keep it still – and described what he saw in words and pictures, in the finest detail. Using equipment he had developed himself, Hooke presented what couldn’t be captured with the human eye – a bee’s stinger, the feet of a fly and the cellular structure of cork, to name just a few. Hooke was the Curator of Experiments at the Royal Society, chartered in 1662, and Micrographia is believed to be the first publication produced by the Society; an example of the new and distinctly English strain of scientific enquiry, trusting only empirical observation as the basis of the laws of nature. Its far-reaching influence includes the coining of the scientific meaning of ‘cell’, while its spectacular illustrations were not only groundbreaking in their method but are also some of the finest examples of scientific art ever produced.

Born in 1635 on the Isle of Wight, Hooke moved to London and then studied at Christ Church College in Oxford, joining a coterie of experimental philosophers under the tutelage of John Wilkins. Hooke’s influential allies included his school friend Christopher Wren and the chemist and physicist Robert Boyle, whose assistant Hooke became in 1656, building the air pumps for the gas experiments which were to immortalise his name. When the Royal Society was created after the Restoration, Hooke was appointed its Curator of Experiments and in 1664 became Professor of Geometry at Gresham College. It was in this position of considerable eminence that he produced Micrographia (1665, The Folio Society 2017; 2022) and achieved renown as one of the new breed of empirical thinkers.

Ruth Scurr is a Fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, where she teaches history and politics. She is the author of three books: a biography of Robespierre, Fatal Purity, which won the Franco-British Society Literary Prize and was shortlisted for several other awards, as well as being named among the 100 best books of the decade in The Times; John Aubrey: My Own Life, a study of the 17th-century biographer John Aubrey; and Napoleon: A Life in Gardens and Shadows, about Napoleon and his love of gardens. She is a regular reviewer for The Times Literary Supplement and many other major British and American newspapers, and has also been a judge for the Man Booker Prize and the Samuel Johnson Prize.


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