Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Atmosphere of Heaven

Author, Transform blogger and Transform trustee Mike Jay has recently published a fascinating biography of Thomas Beddoes and his colleagues at the brilliantly named - Pneumatic Institute.

Danny Kushlick says of the book: "'Atmosphere' is a gas. It comprehensively covers the politics and personal lives of those drawn into the 'factitious airs' of the Pneumatic Institute, in Bristol at the end of 1700s. Mike Jay clearly had Transform in mind as he was writing and the links between the principles and passions at the heart of the individuals behind the Institute resonate deeply. A Bristol-based outfit, at the cutting edge of science, attempting to fundamentally change the way that the professions view the problems of the marginalised and those with an urge to experiment with the effects of drugs on the where have I come across that before?"

Copied below is the cover blurb and links to some of the books reviews.

The Atmosphere of Heaven
The Unnatural Experiments of Dr. Beddoes and his Sons of Genius

"At the Pneumatic Institution in Bristol, England, founded in the closing years of the eighteenth century, dramatic experiments with gases precipitated a revolution not only in scientific medicine but also in the modern mind.

Propelled by the energy of maverick doctor Thomas Beddoes, the Institution was both laboratory and hospital—the first example of a medical research institution. But when its researchers discovered the mind-altering properties of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, their experiments devolved into a pioneering exploration of consciousness, with far-reaching and unforeseen effects.

In this fast-paced and dramatic narrative, Mike Jay tells the story of Dr. Beddoes and the brilliant circle who surrounded him: Erasmus Darwin and the Lunar Society, who supported his experiments; Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Robert Southey, who were inspired by his ideas; James Watt, who designed and built his laboratory; Thomas Wedgwood, the visionary heir to the pottery dynasty, who funded it; and Beddoes’ dazzling young chemistry assistant, Humphry Davy, who tested nitrous oxide to its limits with legendary results.

The Atmosphere of Heaven is a riveting account of the chaotic rise and fall of the Institution, and reveals for the first time its crucial influence - on modern drug culture, attitudes toward objective and subjective knowledge, the development of anaesthetic surgery, and the birth of the Romantic movement."


‘Magnificent!’ .. Oliver Sacks

“A vivid and thrilling biography, superbly evocative of times when excitements and dangers fluidly crossed social and scientific boundaries. It is also a powerful account of the meaning of science” .. New Scientist .. (full review here)

“An arresting study…Mike Jay’s challenging biography puts Thomas Beddoes centre stage in the scientific and political ferment of the Romantic era” .. Sunday Times .. (full review here)

“Diligently researched and engagingly told, Jay’s book illuminates fascinating times” .. The Times .. (full review here)

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