Like several other reviewers, I picked up this book as a semi-sequel to [b:The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science|4371507|The Age of Wonder How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science|Richard Holmes|http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41NbDjxz1vL._SL75_.jpg|4419518], another survey of a period and a zeitgeist in science captured through the linked lives of key thinkers, discoverers and writers. This book follows the next generation, literally in the case of William and Caroline Herschel's son and nephew John (although Caroline gets short shrift from Snyder, something that wrong-footed me from the beginning) who, together with his Cambridge drinking buddies (the titular 'breakfast club' was of the kind that involved vast quantities of wine) set out to change the way science was done with Bacon as their model and muse and stayed relatively close to their goal and each other throughout their lives and careers.
The personal as well as philosophical connection among Herschel, Whewell, Babbage and Jones keeps the narrative coherent while the diversity of their temperaments, chosen subjects and career paths allows it to get broad. Their letters to each other are very quotable and often very funny. Although I never found it uninteresting, I did find the writing a bit pedestrian–nothing terrible, just clear and pleasant rather than lucid and brilliant. One stylistic tic that disproportionately irked me was when Snyder would paranthetically gloss British cabinet ministers with tags like "the equivalent of our
secretary of the treasury" (emphasis mine). The first-person pronoun seems needlessly familiar and parochial.
On the whole, I would recommend it as a decent survey of a compelling period and some very interesting men.