Steven Nadler reviews The Young Descartes: Nobility, rumor, and war, by Harold Cook, "a new Life that shows the philosopher ‘deeply embedded in his dangerous times’", at The Times Literary Supplement.
"In other words, Descartes was, first and foremost, a scientist. However, like many scientists of his time (with notable exceptions, such as Newton), he believed that in order for disciplines like physics (including the mechanics of hard and fluid bodies) to achieve the absolute certainty of which they were capable (at least in principle), they needed to be put on secure and indubitable foundations. By emptying the natural world of soul-like forms, Descartes’s metaphysics of mind and body – whatever theological service it performed – rendered the phenomena of nature amenable to strictly mechanistic explanations. Descartes the epistemologist and Descartes the metaphysician were really working for Descartes the scientist: this will not be news to anyone who has read the philosophical works (most of which have been translated into English) or kept up with the scholarly literature of the past thirty years."