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Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers"How a Nineteenth-Century Man of Business, Science, and the Sea Changed American Life"$
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Tamara Plakins Thornton

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469626932

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2016

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469626932.001.0001

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(p.217) Chapter Nine Apogee
Nathaniel Bowditch and the Power of Numbers

Tamara Plakins Thornton

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter examines Bowditch’s final decade, when the publication of his four-volume annotated translation of Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Mécanique Céleste brought him recognition in the international Republic of Letters, national fame, and stature as a cultural ornament to Boston. As each volume was published, he sent them to mathematicians, scientists, and learned societies in the United States and Europe. Europeans responded with letters of praise, sometimes tinged with condescension—an exception was the correspondence from Charles Babbage--and more honorary memberships. Americans in turn celebrated their American Newton. Bowditch’s standing in Boston society provided his children with favorable career opportunities and marriage choices, but the decade presented Bowditch with his darkest moments: the death of his wife, his despair over anti-Catholic and anti-abolitionist riots and the conflict over slavery, and finally his own fatal illness.

Keywords:   Bowditch, Nathaniel, Laplace, Pierre-Simon, Republic of Letters, Mathematics, Science, Astronomy, Nationalism, Elites, Boston, Massachusetts, Slavery

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