Hannah Dawson

Making the First Move

The Restless Clock: A History of the Centuries-Long Argument over What Makes Living Things Tick

By

University of Chicago Press 548pp £28 order from our bookshop

The world used to be full of magic and then science took it all away. If you went to university in the 16th century, you learned about a universe that pulsed with life and purpose. You learned that every individual thing has a natural motion to its proper end, an internal appetite for what is good for itself. A man, for example, desires to use his reason. An acorn has an appetite to turn into an oak. Even a stone thrown into the air, Aristotle wrote, has an appetite to fall to the ground.

The so-called scientific revolutionaries of the 17th century laughed at this view of nature. They said that it was an elaborate fantasy spun out of words rather than things, no more real than sprites. As Thomas Hobbes observed, it was pretty funny to say that ‘heavy bodies’ knew what was good for them (falling), when even human beings – who in England had just come through a civil war – did not seem to have a clue. 

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Sign up to our email newsletter below! Get free articles, highlights from the archive, and chances to win theatre… ,
    • RT : Founded in 1979, is a trusted independent source for reviews of new books across a variety of genres. A… ,
    • RT : Here we are - "Shelf Indulgence" by Ed Potten, a wonderful read, well worth your time: @Lit_Review,
    • 'Like going to a party hoping to get away as quickly as politeness allowed and at 4am finding myself still engrosse… ,
    • 'Neville never shed his sense of being the junior, and perhaps least-deserving Chamberlain.' From the archive, Mic… ,
    • 'The erecting and immediate destruction of a series of straw men rather detracts from what is for the most part an… ,
    • RT : A magnificent demolition job on this "acid laced tirade...unpleasantly self-obsessed...self pitying polemic...book… ,