Mary Somerville’s life and work has been celebrated in an article written by Richard Holmes and published in Nature.

The article opens:

Less than two centuries ago, popular science barely existed. In 1830, astronomer John Herschel wrote to natural philosopher William Whewell about the urgent need for “digests of what is actually known in each particular branch of science … to give a connected view of what has been done, and what remains to be accomplished”.

The remarkable writer who first achieved that “connected view” and arguably launched popular science writing was a self-taught Scottish mathematician, Mary Fairfax Somerville (1780–1872).

Holmes goes on to relate the impact of her book, On the Connexion of the Physical Sciences, which would run to ten editions and be John Murray’s best-selling scientific publication until Origin of the Species appeared in 1859.

The article can be read on the Nature website.

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