Skip to main content

Adolphe Quetelet, Social Physics and the Average Men of Science, 1796-1874 (Sci & Culture in the Nineteenth Century)

Kevin Donnelly


List Price: 35.00*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (6/1/2015)
Hardcover (6/1/2015)


Adolphe Quetelet was an influential astronomer and statistician whose controversial work inspired heated debate in European and American intellectual circles. In creating a science designed to explain the “average man,” he helped contribute to the idea of normal, most enduringly in his creation of the Quetelet Index, which came to be known as the Body Mass Index.  Kevin Donnelly presents the first scholarly biography of Quetelet, exploring his contribution to quantitative reasoning, his place in nineteenth-century intellectual history, and his profound influence on the modern idea of average.

Praise For Adolphe Quetelet, Social Physics and the Average Men of Science, 1796-1874 (Sci & Culture in the Nineteenth Century)

"Offers an interpretation of Quetelet's work that wholly justifies serious and systemic historical treatment. . . . Donnelly's purpose is neither to praise Quetelet nor to bury his reputation, but to situate his work in the history of nineteenth-century scientific institution-building and its relations to the practices of government. The biography is a timely achievement."
—Steven Shapin, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

“In this important and perceptive book, Kevin Donnelly casts new light on the scientific life of Adolphe Quetelet. Particularly in view of the wide range of his scientific interests, Quetelet remains a curiously understudied figure in the history of nineteenth-century science. This new biographical study goes a long way in correcting that deficit. It offers fascinating insights and will prove indispensable reading for anyone interested in the origins of the nineteenth-century rise of quantification.”
—Iwan Rhys Morus, Aberystwyth University

"After reading all I could about Quetelet, I came away thinking that there was a serious need for a proper treatment of the man, and I was extremely happy to see that this book existed. It is very informative and provides the first sustained treatment of the most famous scientist no one has ever heard of. People need to know about Quetelet."
—Todd Rose, Harvard University

"...this book gives precious insights on the dimensions regarding Adolphe Quetelet's contribution to a "science of man."...a significant contribution to the history of social sciences and an example of the added value of the materialist history of scientific practices."
—Yann Renisio, Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences

University of Pittsburgh Press, 9780822966081, 232pp.

Publication Date: June 25, 2019

About the Author

Kevin Donnelly is assistant professor of history at Alvernia University in Reading, PA.