The Last Man Who Knew Everything - Andrew Robinson

Thomas Young, the anonymous polymath who proved Newton wrong, explained how we see, cured the sick, and deciphered the Rosetta Stone, among other feats of genius

Book Review by Helen Grey | 13 Sep 2006
The Last Man Who Knew Everything' may seem like hyperbole, but Thomas Young came pretty close to living up to the title. When he was asked to contribute to a new edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Young offered to write entries on all of the following subjects: "Alphabet, Annuities, Capillary Action, Cohesion, Colour, Dew, Egypt, Eye, Focus, Friction, Halo, Hieroglyphic, Motion, Resistance, Ship, Sound, Strength, Tides, Waves, and 'anything of a medical nature'."

Robinson's book follows the life and work of polymath Thomas Young (1773-1829) on his journey through the sciences, medicine, language, hieroglyphics and numerous other fields. Many of Young's discoveries are detailed in his own words via a series of letters written to his close friends. Although Young's manner of expression is often highly convoluted, a problem that plagued him throughout his life, Robinson is quick to explain his ideas and make them accessible and compelling. Though this book is not a bedtime read you will feel considerably more informed after finishing it. Might give you a few pub quiz answers too. [Helen Grey]
The Last Man Who Knew Everything' is published by Pi Press. Out Now. Cover Price £17.99.