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“THE BIRTH OF ATOMIC PHYSICS” (PMM 203):
BOSCOVICH’S SCIENTIFIC THEORY
ENCOMPASSED IN ONE NATURAL LAW
BOSCOVICH, Rogerius Josephus. Philosophiae Naturalis Theoria Redacta ad Unicam Legem Virium in Natura Existentium. Vienna, In Officina Libraria Kaliwodiana, 1758.
4to [21.7 x 17 cm], (14) ff. (bifolium d misbound after b signature), 322 pp., (2) ff. (index and ‘Monitum’), 16 pp., IV folding engraved tables. Bound in contemporary half calf and marbled paper over boards; spine, tooled in gold & with red morocco label; marbled paste downs, red mottled edges. Slight wear to upper board, negligible toning to a few quires & light spotting; early repairs at joints. Attractive & overall very genuine; excellent.
$115,000 A handsome example of the very rare 1758 first edition of Rogerius Josephus Boscovich’s (1711-87) Philosophiae Naturalis Theoria, a volume “now recognized as a fundamental influence on modern mathematical physics” (PMM 203), and a text whose impact was felt by such scientific luminaries as Joseph Priestly, Humphry Davy, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, J. J. Thompson, and Niels Bohr. The work deals with the constitution of matter, the behavior of physical forces, and the nature of atoms and light. Boscovich suggests that a single law is the basis of all natural phenomena and of the properties of matter, and that the multiplicity of physical forces is only apparent and due to inadequate mathematical knowledge. “These ‘point-atoms’ of Boscovich were deemed to have a position – but no extension – in space, and to possess mass. Boscovich believed that each atom is surrounded by a field of force, alternately positive and negative through a series of cycles.” (PMM 203)
Boscovich even uncannily anticipates Einsteinian concepts of relativity: One of his chapters is headed “De Spatio, & Tempore, ut a nobis cognoscuntur” (“Space and Time as They are Perceived by Us”) (p. 315). Indeed, Boscovich’s desire to see “Scientific Theory Encompassed in One Natural Law” anticipates the search for a unified field theory undertaken by physicists from Maxwell, to Einstein, to Stephen Hawking. The present volume contains 4 folding plates with some 75 engraved mathematical diagrams, including the force curve (figure 1) that so intrigued later mathematicians and physicists.
Born in Dubrovnik, Boscovich joined the Jesuit Order at the age of fourteen. He subsequently moved to Rome, studying at the Collegium Romanum, where he became an ardent student of the sciences, eventually undertaking several projects for the Vatican involving practical mathematics, most notably the draining of the Pontine Marshes and the structural reinforcement of the iconic dome of St. Peter’s basilica. He published on the transits of Mercury and Venus, the aurora borealis, mathematical problems in the use of telescopes, gravitational theory, geodesy, meteorology, and pure mathematics.
OCLC locates U.S. copies at Harvard, Yale, Chicago, Stanford, Indiana, Oklahoma, & Holy Cross
* Printing and the Mind of Man, no. 203; Honeyman, no. 427; Norman Library of Science and Medicine, cat. no. 277; Riccardi, Biblioteca Mathematica, 1:180; A. de Backer and C. Sommervogel, Bibliothèque de la Compagnie de Jésus, vol. 1, cols. 1840-41; Lancelot L. Whyte, ed., Roger Joseph Boscovich, S.J., F.R.S., 1711-1787: Studies of His Life and Work on the 250th Anniversary of His Birth,, (London: Allen & Unwin, 1961).
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