The Birth of Atomic Physics

Boscovich, Rugjer Josip. Philosophiae naturalis theoria redacta ad unicam legem virium in natura existentium.

Vienna, Augustin Bernardi, 1759.

4to (176 x 217 mm). (2), 20, 322, (2), 16, (4) pp. Title-page printed in red and black. With 4 folding plates. Contemporary Austrian full calf binding, covers ruled in blind, spine richly gilt, with two red leather labels. Marbled endpapers. All edges red.


One of the fundamental books in the history of scientific thought, in which Boscovich developed his theory of "points" which are the first elements of all matter. Second edition, published a year after the first.

Concerning himself with the elementary constitution of matter, the nature and behaviour of physical forces, light, and atoms, Boscovich anticipated many of the features of the atomic and nuclear physics of our own times, and was the true creator of atomic physics as we understand it today. He predicted the penetrability of matter by high-speed particles and the possibility of states of matter of exceptionally high density. "The Theory of Natural Philosophy is now recognized as having exerted a fundamental influence on modern mathematical physics. As the title of his book implies, [Boscovich] considered that a single law was the basis of all natural phenomena and of the properties of matter; that the multiplicity of physical forces was only apparent and due to inadequate mathematical knowledge" (PMM).

Born at Dubrovnik in 1711, Boscovich became a Jesuit and spent most of his career in Italy as professor of mathematics at Rome and Pavia and as director of the observatory at Milan; he also taught in Vienna and Paris. Although then regarded as highly speculative, his "Theoria" enjoyed an immediate success in scientific circles across Europe, and its influence was felt and acknowledged for generations to come by such giants as Joseph Priestley, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Lord Kelvin, J. J. Thomson, and Niels Bohr.

This edition was released in 1759, to compete with the re-issue produced that same year by Kaliwoda, the Viennese printer of the first edition, and all three early Vienna editions are extremely rare. The earliest edition usually encountered is that printed in Venice in 1763, which is the one that J. M. Child reprinted and translated into English in 1922.

Includes the "Adnotanda et corrigenda" as well as the "Monitum" leaves, both frequently lacking. The 16-page "Epistola ad Carolum Scherffer" is bound after the "Finis". Occasional light brownstaining. Traces of a removed bookplate on the front pastedown. In all a very appealing copy.

VD 18, 14408716-008. Cf. PMM 203. Poggendorff I, 246. Norman 277. Riccardi I, 1870, 53. De Backer/Sommervogel I, 1840. DSB II, 326.

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