Read more about our Fellows in Fiction loan collection – books which feature (real) Fellows of the Royal Society in a fictional context.

Portrait of Isaac Newton by Charles Jervas, 1717 (detail)

Looking for a good story to read, now the evenings are drawing in and you’ve returned from your summer holidays to the joys of commuting? Well, we’ve just added a couple of titles to our Fellows in Fiction loan collection – books which feature (real) Fellows of the Royal Society in a fictional context.

The first, ‘Wanting’ by Richard Flanagan, begins during Sir John Franklin’s ill-fated years as Lieutenant-Governor of the penal colony of Van Diemen’s Land (1836 to 1843), and then jumps forward in time to the search for Franklin’s lost expedition to the fabled North-West Passage. I’m looking forward to reading this one myself – Flanagan, a Tasmanian with a strong feeling for his island’s turbulent history, is also the author of the excellent ‘Gould’s Book of Fish’.  I’m reminded of the fate of Franklin’s expedition every time I walk through Waterloo Place on my way to the Royal Society, passing his statue with its moving (albeit incorrect) tribute to “the great Arctic navigator and his brave companions, who sacrificed their lives in completing [sic] the discovery of the North West Passage”. Ooops, sorry, plot spoiler! But I’m sure you knew that Franklin, and all his men, never came home …

Statue of John Franklin in Waterloo Place
Image source:

Second – and possibly more in the ‘light reading’ vein despite its title – is Philip Kerr’s ‘Dark Matter: the Private Life of Sir Isaac Newton’.  Promising “mysterious coded messages” on a corpse hidden in the Tower of London and a “far-reaching plot that might lead to the collapse of the government”, the story sees Newton’s career as Warden of the Royal Mint take a detour into detection and suspense. I don’t think we’re quite into ‘Da Vinci Code’ territory here, though, as reviewers have praised Kerr’s “mastery of period detail” and noted that he “excels at bringing the past back to life”.

‘Dark Matter’, ‘Wanting’ and the rest of the Fellows in Fiction books are shelved in the main reading room in the Royal Society Centre for History of Science. Do let me know if you have any suggestions for adding to this collection, and do pop in to take a look for yourselves. Fellows in Fiction novels, along with modern books on our Biography and History of Science shelves, can now be borrowed by members of the public who have registered as Reader ID card holders, so if you haven’t got yourself an ID card yet, here’s a link to our card rules and regulations. We look forward to seeing you in the Library, where we’ll register you and point you in the direction of the public loan collections. Happy reading!


  • Rupert Baker

    Rupert Baker

    Rupert joined the Royal Society in 1997, and is the Library Manager. His responsibilities include the development of the printed book collections, reader services and enquiry work, and tours of the Society’s home in Carlton House Terrace. Rupert studied physics at the University of Exeter, and then went on to complete an MA in Information Services Management.