With this short but illuminating biographical study, Charles L. Ladner argues convincingly for a lesser-known early scientist’s place among the Scientific Revolution’s leading lights.
Ladner acknowledges that his subject, Elizabethan astronomer and mathematician Thomas Digges, isn’t exactly a household name. Nonetheless, Digges could boast of an impressive list of accomplishments. As Copernicus’s first English translator, he introduced to Britain the notion that the Earth revolved around the sun. He also added his own theories that the stars are placed randomly and not systematically throughout the universe, and that the universe itself is infinite.
For context, Ladner covers the era’s other leading scientists and its major intellectual “paradigm shift,” from abstract logic to empirical evidence-gathering. This is all helpful but delays the book from getting to its main subject. When Ladner does get there, however, Digges proves an interesting, if not especially charismatic, figure. The son of a bestselling technical manual author, he was intensively educated in math as a teenager. As an adult, he advised the queen’s government on scientific matters and served in Parliament, aided by his family wealth and connections.
More intriguingly, he may have been friends with Shakespeare, and the source of astronomical references in the Bard’s writing. Here and elsewhere, the author indulges in some speculation, but not damagingly; his ideas sound plausible, if not provable. Some information is repeated in different sections, but in general Ladner covers his material clearly and efficiently.
As apparently the first “book-length biographical study of Thomas Digges,” this story is an important added chapter in the history of science, and the scientist’s legacy is well-served by Ladner’s scrupulous scholarship and storytelling.
Also available in hardcover and ebook.