Thomas Harriot: The Scientific Genius Who Eschewed Fame

Four hundred years ago, on July 2 1621, a remarkable Englishman named Thomas Harriot died in London. He left behind some 8,000 pages of scientific research, but it is only in recent decades that scholars have uncovered their treasures.

And what they show is that Harriot independently made many significant discoveries now attributed to other, more famous scientists. Some scholars have called him “the English Galileo” and “the greatest British mathematical scientist before Newton”.

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Yet Harriot died without publishing a single word of this extraordinary output. His tale reminds us that, while we may sometimes think science progresses through a series of famous pioneers who single-handedly overturn entrenched beliefs, the story is rarely so simple.

Thomas Harriot observing the Moon through his telescope from the roof of Syon House. Painting by Rita Greer.


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