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November 2016 Vol. 54 No. 3

University of Chicago Press

The following review appeared in the November 2016 issue of CHOICE. The review is for your internal use only. Please review our Permission and Reprints Guidelines or email

Science & Technology
History of Science & Technology

2015-19941 CIP
Riskin, Jessica. The restless clock: a history of the centuries-long argument over what makes living things tick. Chicago, 2016. 548p bibl index afp ISBN 9780226302928, $40.00; ISBN 9780226303086 ebook, contact publisher for price.

Riskin (history, Stanford Univ.) has written a lengthy, detailed, impressive monograph based on her concern over a vital paradox of science. The author begins by discussing the argument that some scientific ideas commenced with a model of nature as a clock, which God designed and produced. This argument appeared to be supported by clever automata, which medieval mechanics had developed in Christian churches. Soon there were objections to that model, and skeptics seemed to triumph with Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection in The Origin of Species (1859). However, there are philosophers of science who still argue that Darwin’s theory is an incomplete understanding of nature, and Riskin takes this claim very seriously. The importance of her monograph may depend upon the extent to which academic communities acknowledge her thesis as a significant issue. At times, the author’s complex argument lacks enough dates for readers to absorb an adequate chronology for maintaining clarity. Overall, Riskin offers provocative arguments.

--F. N. Egerton, University of Wisconsin--Parkside

Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers and faculty.