Slashdot is powered by your submissions, so send in your scoop


Forgot your password?
Google Science

17th Century Microscope Book Is Now Freely Readable 116

menno_h writes "In January 1665, Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary that he stayed up till two in the morning reading a best-selling page-turner, a work that he called 'the most ingenious book I read in my life.' It was not a rousing history of English battles or a proto-bodice ripper. It was filled with images: of fleas, of bark, of the edges of razors. The book was called Micrographia. It provided the reading public with its first look at the world beyond the naked eye. Its author, Robert Hooke, belonged to a brilliant circle of natural philosophers who — among many other things — were the first in England to make serious use of microscopes as scientific instruments. They were great believers in looking at the natural world for themselves rather than relying on what ancient Greek scholars had claimed. Looking under a microscope at the thousands of facets on an insect's compound eye, they saw things at the nanoscale that Aristotle could not have dreamed of. A razor's edge became a mountain range. In the chambers of a piece of bark, Hooke saw the first evidence of cells. Micrographia is is available on Google Books now."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

17th Century Microscope Book Is Now Freely Readable

Comments Filter:
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I've been waiting for this.

    • I skimmed through it, and this book is quite amazing! Almost 400 years old and still you can learn from it. I didn't know books like this were around back then. It looks almost modern.

    • Neal Stephenson, is that you???

    • Well, it just exited copyright protection last week...

  • by Black Parrot ( 19622 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @03:25AM (#41738419)

    Did the copyright finally expire?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Don't worry they'll revoke it soon enough.

    • Sadly it was made before Jack Valenti could get his "forever minus a single day" copyright laws passed. Won't someone think of the corporations? Why people are actually READING without writing them a check!
    • Re:17th Century? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Kirth ( 183 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @07:09AM (#41739429) Homepage

      Yep, I don't understand why this is news, and why that book hasn't been available electronically for a long time.

      Probably some jerk-publisher fraudulently claimed "coypright" on its print of it, and it took google several years until they noticed that indeed, the publisher did NOT have a copyright, and indeed, they COULD post it in its entirety. Which is, by the way, why around 80% of all public domain books google has digitized are not available in its entirety.

      I wrote about it a few years ago [] The situation hasn't changed. Google Books is still the biggest repository of public domain books with fraudulently claimed copyright.

      If you're doing historical research, it's absolutely maddening how most books from the 19th century and earlier "is not available if full" because of fraudulent copyright claims -- and google reacting very slowly.

      • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

        But although Google should be congratulated, it is a poor scan. Whoever did this didn't bother unfolding the leaf of the pictures which were obviously folded to preserve the book format. Some pages were not aligned properly also.
        This is typical of the care that I've found with google and their incredibly poor paywall selections.

      • Re:17th Century? (Score:5, Informative)

        by JasterBobaMereel ( 1102861 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @12:14PM (#41741389)

        Google's version is in images of the pages, most of the illustrations (which are the whole point of the book) are fold outs and are not folded out in Google's copy, the ones that are visible are smudgy poor quality versions of the originals...

        Project Gutenburg has a much better copy - HTML,epub,kindle etc ... transcribed text and detailed images


        Why is the a story ....?

        • by Ankh ( 19084 )

          The images are better than average for project gutenberg. On my own site I generally scan at 2400dpi, [] - although people have to ask me for the high resolution images. For one thing, a 2 gigabyte image can crash people's Web browsers :-)

          Project Gutenberg has always been really sloppy with metadata - identifying exactly which edition of a work was transcribed (and which impression), describing its physical characteristics and so forth. They seem to be improving a little, slowly.


  • Just saying... (Score:4, Informative)

    by J.J. Dane ( 1562629 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @03:26AM (#41738425)

    Surely that's been on Project Gutenberg for years and years?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by vurian ( 645456 )
      If it was on gutenberg, it would have been a transcription. This is a full scan of the original pages, including illustrations. It's looking pretty good.
      • Re:Just saying... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by docmordin ( 2654319 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @03:44AM (#41738529)

        [...] This is a full scan of the original pages, including illustrations. It's looking pretty good.

        Some of the pages are garbled, or, at the very least, a tad difficult to parse, due to the ensuing or previous page(s) bleeding through to the others during the scanning process. (Granted, this phenomena gave me an excellent idea for an IEEE CVPR/TPAMI paper about a variational, non-local image inpainting scheme for fixing such things in scanned, double-sided documents.)

      • by srussia ( 884021 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @04:14AM (#41738671)

        If it was on gutenberg, it would have been a transcription. This is a full scan of the original pages, including illustrations. It's looking pretty good.

        For example, now we know Robert Hooke fpoke with a weird lifp, a fact that was not apparent in the PG tranfcription!

      • Re:Just saying... (Score:5, Informative)

        by 404 Clue Not Found ( 763556 ) * on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @06:05AM (#41739181) []

        The Gutenberg book has MUCH clearer text (as in, it's actually readable and there's no bleedthrough from the page under it). It's also properly formatted and actual text, not just blurry images of text.

        It also has MUCH better illustrations. Not only are they hand-scanned and cropped to a high quality, they're individual images so you can actually open them in another tab and cross-reference them with the text.

        The Google Books scan is absolutely worthless in comparison except as a lesson in how not to scan books if you want them to be useful.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          That's far more readable, yes.

          Loved this part, it really puts the work into context:

          A Second thing (which was hinted to me, by the consideration of the included fluids globular form, caused by the protrusion of the ambient heterogeneous fluid) was, whether the Phænomena of gravity might not by this means be explained, by supposing the Globe of Earth, Water, and Air to be included with a fluid, heterogeneous to all and each of them, so subtil, as not only to be every where interspersed through the Air, (or rather the air through it) but to pervade the bodies of Glass, and even the closest Metals, by which means it may endeavour to detrude all earthly bodies as far from it as it can; and partly thereby, and partly by other of its properties may move them towards the Center of the Earth. Now that there is some such fluid, I could produce many Experiments and Reasons, that do seem to prove it: But because it would ask some time and room to set them down and explain them, and to consider and answer all the Objections (many whereof I foresee) that may be alledged against it; I shall at present proceed to other Queries, contenting my self to have here only given a hint of what I may say more elswhere.

          People were fumbling around without a lot of the knowledge that we take for granted today, which make their advancements all the more impressive, IMO.

        • Having just compared the two, I concur.

          If this is the quality we can expect from the Google book scans, they may as well not bother.

          The Project Gutenberg version is vastly superior.
      • Re:Just saying... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Rogue Haggis Landing ( 1230830 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @08:19AM (#41739791)
        It's been available for years in other places; my partner wrote her dissertation on 17th century science, and used scans of Hooke from a couple of online sources. The National Library of Medicine has a beautiful flash version of it []. There is a decent version at the University of Wisconsin []. It's at [] in a nice scan. The PG edition is very good, an original spelling transcription with scans of the original plates. IIRC there's also a scanned edition in the (pay access) database Early English Books Online. So this is not news at all.

        But it's always a good time to look at Hooke. His illustrations really are astonishingly beautiful, and weren't bested for a century or more, and the text conveys something of the wonder to be the first person to *ever* see these things. It's pretty astonishing to imagine what that might have felt like. Hooke not only first saw cells, he coined the word in its biological sense, because he thought the cells in cork bark looked like the cells that monks live in. Hooke was a polymath, a successful mathematician, an architect and inventor, and by all accounts a very good musician. He was also apparently a bit unpleasant and a little crazed, but genius is allowed these things (at least when it's no longer around to annoy you)
    • by Anonymous Coward

      not Gutenberg, but, yes, it was:

    • by Dupple ( 1016592 )

      It's on Gutenburg [] []

  • by ryzvonusef ( 1151717 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @04:07AM (#41738637) Journal

    The link in parent post from Google Dutch. []

    Also, ugh, back scan all over! Can't read the bloody thing due to the back page image being scanned in. (courtesy of a flatbed, back-lit scanner?)

    I think it should have been scanned with one of those front book scanner (like the ones they make here[1]) I dare presume that would have eliminated the problem?

    [1]: []

    • Also, God damn Long S []

    • by robbak ( 775424 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @05:36AM (#41739053) Homepage

      What you are calling back-scan is print-through, partially related to the book being 350 years old, and the ink bleeding through the paper over the centuries.
      You can be sure that they have done everything they could to reduce it, but that is what the pages look like now.

      What annoys me, however, is that they have not opened up and scanned all the folded-over plates. The signature image, that of the flea, is only visible in the shadow of that print-through!
      Unless I am missing something in the google books interface!

  • Small correction... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @04:14AM (#41738677)

    Looking under a microscope at the thousands of facets on an insect's compound eye, they saw things at the nanoscale that Aristotle could not have dreamed of.

    I know it's fun to put edgy and trendy words in phrases at random, but the scale at which you observe things under a standard optical microscope is (unsurprisingly) the microscale, not the nanoscale. "Nanoscale" is not a generic word for small... it actually refers to a specific range of sizes (different from the ranges of sizes addressed by terms such as "microscale" and "femtoscale").

    Words... we have them. Learn how to use them.

    • "Nanoscale" is not a generic word for small... it actually refers to a specific range of sizes (different from the ranges of sizes addressed by terms such as "microscale" and "femtoscale"). Words... we have them. Learn how to use them.

      Just as e.g. the ancient Greeks had no problem with the use of the word myrios to mean either "exactly 10,000" or "an inexact huge amount", it's not the end of the world if English speakers today use nanoscale for "exactly a scale of 1-100 nanometers" among specialists and "a

  • The "Frost piss" title has never been so appropriate here: you will certainly like the chapter "Several Observable in the fix branched Figures form'd on the surface of Urine by freezing", page 88 (Google Books index) []. Hey, that frozen urine crystal looks marvelous !
  • I just finished reading the preface and that was probably one of the most pleasant and understandable English manuscript I've read the entire week(or month). I usually don't read "ancient" unedited texts, but in my very limited experience the older the text the harder to read. Texts from 19th century or earlier can be quite frustrating. Other than the use of the integral symbol as the 's' character, it was a smooth read and it felt like the text was written very recently. I'm not even a native English speak
    • I am a native English speaker, and I often have trouble reading archaic English texts.
      Shakespeare (around 1600) and the King James Version of the Bible (1611) come to mind. I have seen current-English editions of Shakespeare (shown in parallel with the original text) and there are many other English Bible translations - is that the kind of thing you were thinking of?
      Micrographia is a few decades later at 1665. The Google Books scan has that long s, and the Project Gutenberg version has excessive italics. Th

      • I am a native English speaker, and I often have trouble reading archaic English texts. Shakespeare (around 1600) and the King James Version of the Bible (1611) come to mind.

        Apart from the use of the long S, thou/thee and having superfluous e's on the end of words, the 1611 KJV bible is not at all difficult to read. My problems came when trying to read Chaucer (Fourteenth Century) which is much more like a half-foreign language at first, although you do get used to it after a while.

    • It makes me wonder, did someone "translated" it into modern English?

      No, it's just that Seventeenth Century English wasn't that different from modern English. By that point, spellings and punctuation were largely regularised (unlike in say the Sixteenth Century).

  • Great (Score:2, Interesting)

    by ledow ( 319597 )


    Now if someone could actually do a half-decent job of removing the other-side of the page that leaks through on EVERY page, it might be readable without giving me a headache.

    Seriously, would it be that hard to do some kind of light-trick or image-editing afterwards (especially as you have an image of the reverse page which could be tweaked and pulled to provide a lined-up mask to dial down those parts of the page), or hell even just a bit of contrast adjustment etc. so that the presumably very thin pa

    • Apart from hand-editing every page, or or just normalizing the life out of them, there is no way. If you had the paper before you, it would look like that. No amount of lighting will remove what is on the page.
      And you can't simply subtract the back of the page from the front. The amount of soak-through is dependant on the fibres of the paper!

      • by nzac ( 1822298 )

        I am guessing the GP does not want a exact reproduction of the current book just the bleed-though and transfer from the adjacent page removed.

        The desired black text is clearly darker than undesired text so just save it in a layer with transparency and some reasonable feathering. Then change all the dark/black pixels to the average brown for the area the text was in and blur the area. Finally overlay the desired text back onto the page.

  • If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Hooke, Pepys, Newton et al., you should read "The Baroque Cycle".

    • by rpetre ( 818018 )
      I am reading the Baroque Cycle these days, it made me extremely giddy to recognize the context of the book :)
    • If you want to immerse yourself in the world of Hooke, Pepys, Newton et al., you should read "The Baroque Cycle".

      Especially if you've got a month's solitary confinement coming up and want something to keep you occupied.

  • Biographies of Isaac Newton do not show Robert Hooke in a good light. He was a pretender to genius and laid claim to ideas that Newton developed in full, whereas Hooke had the most rudimentary sense of them. He was in science what we'd call a patent troll in the field of business. Just because he has a name one might have heard before is no reason to accord to him the profound dignity of scholarship this article purports to bestow. He looked through a microscope. Wow! Newton invented the theory of optics. (
    • by wisty ( 1335733 )

      Isaac Newton hates Hooke's guts, and the feeling was mutual. Hooke was actually pretty good, but not as good as Newton at math (who was?). Actually, Newton hated *everyone's* guts, and everyone hated him back (though most respected his genius).

      Fun fact - when Newton said "I was standing on the shoulders of giants", he was pointing out that his work was based on Des-Cartes wave theory, not Hooke's particle theory (though both were later found to be true - the particles were waves). This was doubly insulting,

      • Not everyone loved Hooke either, because he spent far too much time drinking and whoring

        I didn't know it was possible to spend too much time drinking and whoring.

    • by pehrs ( 690959 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @10:57AM (#41740315)
      Isaac Newton was a very good scientist, and an even better politician. Actually, "ruthless" would probably be the best term to describe the man. He spent years discrediting anybody who had crossed him, frequently postmortem. You see, Isaac lived for a long time, and took the liberty to spend the last few years of his life smearing people like Hooke and Halley.

      There is a reason he was chosen to head the royal mint, where he ensured that some 30 coiners ended up hung, drawn and quartered in less than a year.
      • The UK £2 coin has "Standing on the shoulders of Giants" around the edge... to doubly commemorate Isaac Newton

        He was master of the royal mint and famously quoted this, and he invented Milled Edge coins to stop people clipping coins (when they has intrinsic worth)

  • Wow. That whole "to the king" section was at least as interesting to me as the rest of the book...

  • Robert Hooke (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Viceice ( 462967 )

    Hooke also selected several objects of human origin; among these objects were the jagged edge of a honed razor and the point of a needle, seeming blunt under the microscope. His goal may well have been as a way to contrast the flawed products of mankind with the perfection of nature (and hence, in the spirit of the times, of biblical creation).

    I wonder what he might have thought if he could see a modern microprocessor under the microscope.

  • Good thing it wasn't in film form, or it wouldn't be freely watchable for about infinity years.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Damm New Zealand copyright

    Sorry! Books on Google Play is not available in your country yet.
    We're working to bring the content you love to more countries as quickly as possible.
    Please check back again soon

  • by phrackwulf ( 589741 ) on Tuesday October 23, 2012 @08:38AM (#41739993)

    Hooke gets credit for popularizing the technology but the optical science of Van Leeuwenhoek has always been where the real scientific innovation was. H. Clifton Sorby, the "Father of all metallurgists" refined the use of the optical microscope for geological materials and then metals and began the process of specialized etchants, which directly gave us the ability to refine and understand the structure of steels in different quenchants and temperatures through direct study of the resulting microstructures. Sorby doesn't get anywhere near the credit he deserves nowadays and ever time I run into a poorly trained metallurgist I am reminded of the exacting science of men like E.C. Baine, M.A. Grossman and H. Clifton Sorby. Though the Hooke college of microscopy in Chicago should never be overlooked.

  • ... And what happens when you rip one?
  • Very kewl! I love this old stuff. Some more old books to enjoy:

    The Harmonia Macrocosmica []

    The Voynich Manuscript/a. aka, the most mysterious book in the world. []

      If this keeps up... why any old commoner could read about almost anything!

  • Pages 111-113 are not part of this book preview.

  • by 32771 ( 906153 )

    Not only did Google provide us with the aforementioned book about microscopes, they also made the young mans book of amusements public to the adventurous reader. []

  • Is it just me, or is this one a cheap fake?: []

Receiving a million dollars tax free will make you feel better than being flat broke and having a stomach ache. -- Dolph Sharp, "I'm O.K., You're Not So Hot"