In this engagingly written biography, Tamara Plakins Thornton
delves into the life and work of Nathaniel Bowditch (1773-1838), a
man Thomas Jefferson once called a "meteor in the hemisphere."
Bowditch was a mathematician, astronomer, navigator, seafarer, and
business executive whose Enlightenment-inspired perspectives shaped
nineteenth-century capitalism while transforming American life more
broadly. Enthralled with the precision and certainty of numbers and
the unerring regularity of the physical universe, Bowditch operated
and represented some of New England's most powerful
institutions—from financial corporations to Harvard
College—as clockwork mechanisms. By examining Bowditch's
pathbreaking approaches to institutions, as well as the political
and social controversies they provoked, Thornton's biography sheds
new light on the rise of capitalism, American science, and social
elites in the early republic.
Fleshing out the multiple careers of Nathaniel Bowditch, this book
is at once a lively biography, a window into the birth of
bureaucracy, and a portrait of patrician life, giving us a broader,
more-nuanced understanding of how powerful capitalists operated
during this era and how the emerging quantitative sciences shaped
the modern experience.