Micrographia: Hooke, September, 1665

The world’s first scientific best seller (all 1,200 copies sold out in in a near panic in just one day), Robert Hooke’s 1665 book Micrographia inspired the world to explore the microscopic realm hidden from ordinary sight. The author also coined the biological term “cell” for the basic unit of life, based on plant cells he observed that looked to him like the “cells” for nuns in a monastery. Once scientific observation supersedes tradition and folklore, medical progress then depends on precise tools, such as microscopes, for observation and medical research. The Micrographia reproduced the author’s detailed hand drawings to reveal the previously unimaginable microworld all around us. This book gave ordinary people their first glimpse of the tiny creatures that live on, around, and within our bodies and are directly responsible for many of our health conditions. The large detailed foldout engravings illustrating a close-up of a fly’s head, a flea or a bed louse’s armored body and legs was a terrifying sight for Londoners of Hooke’s day. Unknown to the world was that invisible microbes in the same fleas as those shown in the book were the carriers of bubonic plague that had killed more than 100,000 Londoners just the year before this book was published.