The first person to describe a cell was Robert Hooke, whom we last encountered squabbling with Isaac Newton over credit for the invention of the inverse square law. Hooke achieved many things in his sixty-eight years—he was both an accomplished theoretician and a dab hand at making ingenious and useful instruments—but nothing he did brought him greater admiration than his popular book Microphagia: or Some Physiological Descriptions of Miniature Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses, produced in 1665. It revealed to an enchanted public a universe of the very small that was far more diverse, crowded, and finely structured than anyone had ever come close to imagining.
Among the microscopic features first identified by Hooke were little chambers in plants that he called "cells" because they reminded him of monks' cells. Hooke calculated that a one-inch square of cork would contain 1,259,712,000 of these tiny chambers—the first appearance of such a very large number anywhere in science. Microscopes by this time had been around for a generation or so, but what set Hooke's apart were their technical supremacy. They achieved magnifications of thirty times, making them the last word in seventeenth-century optical technology.