With a title like that, I expected a clash of titans. However, the subtitle, The Birth of American Science, is a lot closer to the meat of the book.
A meteor hit Weston, Connecticut in 1807 and a fledgling American scientific community ran to explain meteors, once and for all. Professor Benjamin Silliman led the charge and did what no man of science in America had yet been able to do. He put America on the map scientifically speaking.
The history of scientific respectability in the book is interesting and there are insights of Jefferson that I have never come across before. However, there was no clash of titans and more information about meteors than I ever wanted to learn. Now if you like meteors or at least curious about them, this would be a great read.
It was more of a gradual story of the the growing independence of the United States, how meteors were looked at through the years, the rise of the scientific community’s view of American science, a new view of Jefferson, a fairly brief history of the politics at the time, and a biography of Professor Silliman. That is a lot of information to pack into 254 pages. Somehow it works for Prince; it just didn’t work for me as a reader.
Maybe this dislike is my fault, I shouldn’t have led myself to expect a shootout of O.K. Corral proportions. Jefferson never came out publically to question Professor Silliman’s findings. There was no struggle between the two really. Jefferson simply sent another man that he personally trusted to check it out. He did what most of us would do when confronted with a whole new scientific theory; he sought the opinion of people that he knew.
I also should add that while I am a fan of science in my reads, I am not really a fan of anything space related like meteors. I have always felt that there is enough stuff going on down here, on the ground, to study, explain, and in the case of medical science, cure or at least ease suffering.
This book would have been a lot better for me if I hadn’t had such expectations from the title. The highlight for me was the glimpse of Jefferson as more human, less mythic man of science and American history. If you love meteors, I would highly recommend it. If not, you might want to take a pass.
A Professor, A President, and A Meteor by Cathryn J. Prince
I did find a couple of other reviews and commentaries of the book in case you are interested.