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The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors

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A wonderfully readable account of scientific development over the past five hundred years, focusing on the lives and achievements of individual scientists, by the bestselling author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat In this ambitious new book, John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Co A wonderfully readable account of scientific development over the past five hundred years, focusing on the lives and achievements of individual scientists, by the bestselling author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat In this ambitious new book, John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Copernicus, during the Renaissance, when science replaced mysticism as a means of explaining the workings of the world, and he continues through the centuries, creating an unbroken genealogy of not only the greatest but also the more obscure names of Western science, a dot-to-dot line linking amateur to genius, and accidental discovery to brilliant deduction. By focusing on the scientists themselves, Gribbin has written an anecdotal narrative enlivened with stories of personal drama, success and failure. A bestselling science writer with an international reputation, Gribbin is among the few authors who could even attempt a work of this magnitude. Praised as “a sequence of witty, information-packed tales” and “a terrifi c read” by The Times upon its recent British publication, The Scientists breathes new life into such venerable icons as Galileo, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Linus Pauling, as well as lesser lights whose stories have been undeservedly neglected. Filled with pioneers, visionaries, eccentrics and madmen, this is the history of science as it has never been told before. From the Hardcover edition.


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A wonderfully readable account of scientific development over the past five hundred years, focusing on the lives and achievements of individual scientists, by the bestselling author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat In this ambitious new book, John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Co A wonderfully readable account of scientific development over the past five hundred years, focusing on the lives and achievements of individual scientists, by the bestselling author of In Search of Schrödinger’s Cat In this ambitious new book, John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Copernicus, during the Renaissance, when science replaced mysticism as a means of explaining the workings of the world, and he continues through the centuries, creating an unbroken genealogy of not only the greatest but also the more obscure names of Western science, a dot-to-dot line linking amateur to genius, and accidental discovery to brilliant deduction. By focusing on the scientists themselves, Gribbin has written an anecdotal narrative enlivened with stories of personal drama, success and failure. A bestselling science writer with an international reputation, Gribbin is among the few authors who could even attempt a work of this magnitude. Praised as “a sequence of witty, information-packed tales” and “a terrifi c read” by The Times upon its recent British publication, The Scientists breathes new life into such venerable icons as Galileo, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Linus Pauling, as well as lesser lights whose stories have been undeservedly neglected. Filled with pioneers, visionaries, eccentrics and madmen, this is the history of science as it has never been told before. From the Hardcover edition.

30 review for The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sandy

    I should preface this by saying that I love learning about science, especially chemistry. I wondered at the outset if I would ever finish this book because it contained over 600 pages about the history of science, but I found myself turning pages much faster than expected. Gribbin does a fantastic job of keeping science history interesting by intermingling fascinating tales about the lives of several prominent scientists and squabbles had amongst those great thinkers. He manages to mention almost I should preface this by saying that I love learning about science, especially chemistry. I wondered at the outset if I would ever finish this book because it contained over 600 pages about the history of science, but I found myself turning pages much faster than expected. Gribbin does a fantastic job of keeping science history interesting by intermingling fascinating tales about the lives of several prominent scientists and squabbles had amongst those great thinkers. He manages to mention almost every notable scientist (that I can think of) from Ptolemy to present, with accompanying details that are often new to the reader. I found his description of the relationship between Hooke and Newton to be particularly interesting. It is the relationships among all the different scientists that is handled in great light in this book. Gribbin acknowledges which scientists came before or after others, those who lived and worked along side one another, those who were close friends, those who built on the ideas of others, and those who were great competitors. For example, Robert Darwin found an unusual fossil near his home and brought it to the Royal Society where he met Newton (the Society’s President at the time). His son Erasmus Darwin was a great thinker and mingled with James Watt, Ben Franklin, and Joseph Priestly. Erasmus’ son Robert Darwin was a physician. His son was Charles Robert Darwin, now famous for his ideas on evolution by natural selection. Thus, Charles Darwin’s great-grandfather had met Isaac Newton. Three scientists independently “discovered” a wealth of information pertaining to heredity and were about to publish in 1900, when one learned that Gregor Mendel had already published it in 1867. The true nature of scientific discovery is described well. The author argues, “It is the luck of the draw, or historical accident, whose name gets remembered as the discoverer of new phenomenon.” “Geniuses maybe; but irreplaceable certainly not.” His only exception to these criteria is Isaac Newton, without whom the author thinks science would have been held back a very long time. Fascinating, Exciting, Science!

  2. 5 out of 5

    CF

    Phew! A really great history of science starting with the 15th century and working right up to the present day. Focusing on not just the scientific discoveries but the scientists themselves, this gives a really human feel to the story of science. We get to know a little about everyone's life, from Copernicus to Einstein. Also touching on a bit of the classical Greek period, where philosophy overlapped with science. Gribbin's style of writing is comprehensive without being too much. He acknowledg Phew! A really great history of science starting with the 15th century and working right up to the present day. Focusing on not just the scientific discoveries but the scientists themselves, this gives a really human feel to the story of science. We get to know a little about everyone's life, from Copernicus to Einstein. Also touching on a bit of the classical Greek period, where philosophy overlapped with science. Gribbin's style of writing is comprehensive without being too much. He acknowledges that he cannot fit everything in, but still makes sure we know where to find more information. This is separated into all the differing types of science, astronomy, physics, touching on mathematics, astrophysics, and more. I enjoyed this, and even though parts of it were a bit past my intelligence to fully understand, it will be good to use in future as a reference. I would like to read more of John Gribbin's popular science books.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    I started out loving this book, it gave glimpses into the men who helped form science. When we approached the modern era, a time when some of the scientists discussed are still alive possibly, the tone changed... the book stopped being about the people and more only about the science. It was this change that threw me off... I suppose there is a valid reason to not continue the quirks to include something like Richard Dawkins has had a propensity to wear short shorts in public places (which I hav I started out loving this book, it gave glimpses into the men who helped form science. When we approached the modern era, a time when some of the scientists discussed are still alive possibly, the tone changed... the book stopped being about the people and more only about the science. It was this change that threw me off... I suppose there is a valid reason to not continue the quirks to include something like Richard Dawkins has had a propensity to wear short shorts in public places (which I have witnessed), but it was precisely that the insights into scientists like Newton and Linnaeus were so fascinating to me. Plus the soap box on the end about how sociologists and historians malign science by not giving it its merited status and instead "consider" it as not quite theory and merely subject to the whims of people... I thought that was unnecessary.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Philipp

    A history of science told in many lives - each chapter focusing on one aspect of the history of science, with the chapter itself being a chronologically ordered story of scientific lives. In that aspect, it's very much like Bell's Men Of Mathematics (GR link, my review), not only is The Scientists structured similarly, the humorous tone and fun anecdotes are similar too: Henry was painfully shy and hardly ever went out except to scientific gatherings - even at these, latecomers sometimes found hi A history of science told in many lives - each chapter focusing on one aspect of the history of science, with the chapter itself being a chronologically ordered story of scientific lives. In that aspect, it's very much like Bell's Men Of Mathematics (GR link, my review), not only is The Scientists structured similarly, the humorous tone and fun anecdotes are similar too: Henry was painfully shy and hardly ever went out except to scientific gatherings - even at these, latecomers sometimes found him standing outside the door trying to pluck up enough courage to enter, long after he was a respected scientist in his own right. He communicated with his servants by writing them notes, wherever possible; and there are several stories about how on unexpectedly encountering a woman he did not know, he would shield his eyes with his hand and literally run away. Since the author himself is a astrophysicist the focus is a bit more on physics, cosmology and astrophysics than on medicine or biology - two chapters are on biology (one on Lyell -> Darwin -> Wallace, one on Mendel -> many more I haven't heard of before (nice! Ever heard of Miescher?) -> Crick/Watson), only one part of a chapter is on medicine, one chapter on geology, the rest is physics (but that is a truth of the history of science - for a long time, Western scientists focused more on the stars and mechanics than on the human body). Some more aspects I noted: - Science shifted from a (often rich) gentleman's hobby to a full-time profession sometime around Darwin's life. I got nostalgic for a time where you could just work your whole life for a king without having to fill out grant applications every few years; but then again, you'd be dependent on the king's whims and mortality. Plus, with only a few outliers it was practically impossible for a "poor" person to even begin with scientific work. - The descriptions of Galileo's and Bruno's troubles with the church are great - none of the usual "martyrs for science!" stuff, more (correct) focus on political and theological problems here. The history of scientists has, weirdly enough, quite a few arians in it. - Gribbin goes through great pain to make it clear that to become "a name" in the history of science, it's often not some mythological personal genius, but luck of being the right hard-working person at the right position at the right time. He often details the people who also made the important discovery at the same time as the "famous" discoverer made it, but for some reason, have been forgotten by history. - Fallopian tubes are called "tubes" even though Fallopio originally described them as "brass trumpets", i.e., tubas - "tubes" is a mistranslation. - Gribbin is no fan of Newton - although his discoveries were manifold and important, his rather extreme personality made work for other scientists very hard, and the cult of Newton's personality after Newton's death kept progress in some areas of science behind. Gribbin correctly points out that Newton didn't receive the knighthood for his scientific advances, but as "a rather grubby bit of political opportunism by Halifax as part of his attempt to win the election of 1705". - Especially towards the end this book gets more dry, almost as if Gribbin had a deadline coming up and slogged through writing it - Dalton discovered colour blindness, as he himself suffered from it. Imagine making that discovery!! - Gribbin's not a big fan of Kuhnian scientific revolutions, as the structure and the afterword of this book make it clear. To him, scientific progress is developed "essentially incremental, step-by-step". Recommended for: Scientists, people interested in history or the history of science

  5. 5 out of 5

    JS Found

    You'd want to get this book for your kid. Along with Carl Sagan's Cosmos and both TV adaptations. Because science, properly taught or written about, can be very exciting for a kid to learn. This is the story of all its wonders told by bios of the people who invented and discovered them. 400 years of science are elegantly compacted into this synthesis, but Gribbin writes with such ease and clarity, with all the pleasures of narrative history, that you don't notice you're learning science. Not the You'd want to get this book for your kid. Along with Carl Sagan's Cosmos and both TV adaptations. Because science, properly taught or written about, can be very exciting for a kid to learn. This is the story of all its wonders told by bios of the people who invented and discovered them. 400 years of science are elegantly compacted into this synthesis, but Gribbin writes with such ease and clarity, with all the pleasures of narrative history, that you don't notice you're learning science. Not the tedious memorization of facts in a school textbook. This is science as it was discovered, when the scientists had no idea what they had found out, and what they were learning. It's really a suspense tale. A scientist will do an experiment, not sure whether it will work or not, not knowing what he will discover, and whether his hypothesis will be proven right, or at least not wrong, or whether he will stumble upon something else entirely. Something perhaps revolutionary that will permanently change life and the world forever. Gribbin structures the story by time and scientific subject. We start with Copernicus and Galileo and end with quantum physics and the latest cosmology. In between chemistry, evolution, genetics, geology, electromagnetism and the nature of light are elucidated. The bios help ease the learning by humanizing it: science becomes the discoveries of flawed people, from all classes and walks of life who had desires, fears, rivalries, and lived through turbulent historical times, like everyone else. The story of science is a continuum--men and women from all through time building and expanding upon the work of the people who came before. An essential book for any science library.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    Overview books are tricky, and most fail. Many things have happened, y'know? And a book that includes a great deal of them often turns into...well, into a list of things that have happened. This is why all textbooks suck. So one has to pick and choose, and the choice necessarily creates a perspective. You've picked up these select threads, which leaves you inevitably with that picture. And the trick in writing a good overview book is to end up with a picture that's interesting, compelling, and mo Overview books are tricky, and most fail. Many things have happened, y'know? And a book that includes a great deal of them often turns into...well, into a list of things that have happened. This is why all textbooks suck. So one has to pick and choose, and the choice necessarily creates a perspective. You've picked up these select threads, which leaves you inevitably with that picture. And the trick in writing a good overview book is to end up with a picture that's interesting, compelling, and most of all, coherent. I only read 100 pages of Gribbin's book and then set it down, because I have this complicated reading schedule and it called for these 100 pages and then something else. I'll come back to the rest later, when it arrives on my mental syllabus. But so far, I think Gribbin is picking the right threads. I like the line he draws from William Gilbert, of whom I'd never heard, to Galileo. It was neat; I liked learning about Gilbert, and I liked his take on Galileo. He's fussy about who he chooses to mention, and how much, and in relation to whom else, and it's working for me. I look forward to getting back to this. I even have hopes of bumping it up to five stars when it's all over.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dеnnis

    Magnificent tour-de-force on the development of science as we know it. With one big limitation, which the author duly acknowledges: it doesn't cover advances and breakthroughs in medical science, no matter how stupendous they were. If you want to see how discoveries of vaccination, microbes and viruses, anaesthesia etc... fit into a larger context of science development, you better look elsewhere. Names of Jenner, Pasteur, Koch, Flemming and multiple others are found nowhere on its pages. There y Magnificent tour-de-force on the development of science as we know it. With one big limitation, which the author duly acknowledges: it doesn't cover advances and breakthroughs in medical science, no matter how stupendous they were. If you want to see how discoveries of vaccination, microbes and viruses, anaesthesia etc... fit into a larger context of science development, you better look elsewhere. Names of Jenner, Pasteur, Koch, Flemming and multiple others are found nowhere on its pages. There you may encouter only subtlest hints on how major events in chemistry, physics, biology and in scientific method in general affected medicine. Yet, since it was more or less unambigously declared by the author, the abscence of such narrative could not be considered a book's flaw. Excellent account otherwise!

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book manages to accomplish the not insignificant feat of taking material which is intrinsically fascinating, feeding it into a kind of death-prose generating machine, and regurgitating it as what feels like a single 600-page long indigestible eructation (to mix my digestive metaphors). Shame on you, John Gribbin! In producing this ill-gotten lumpen-tour, which manages to leach all the interest out of what should be a fascinating magical mystery-tour, all you have managed to illuminate are th This book manages to accomplish the not insignificant feat of taking material which is intrinsically fascinating, feeding it into a kind of death-prose generating machine, and regurgitating it as what feels like a single 600-page long indigestible eructation (to mix my digestive metaphors). Shame on you, John Gribbin! In producing this ill-gotten lumpen-tour, which manages to leach all the interest out of what should be a fascinating magical mystery-tour, all you have managed to illuminate are the deathly pedestrian contours of your own imagination-starved mind. Should anyone be tempted by this dismal tome, be aware that, despite its 600+ pages, its coverage of biology is scant and cartoonlike. The view is almost exclusively that of an ill-read physicist.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Matt McCormick

    I feel a little silly to be disappointed that a book about scientists had too much science for my enjoyment. The history of science is fascinating. To think of how much our knowledge has grown in just 500 years and exponentially over the past 200! It really wasn’t so long ago that most “educated” people believed the stars controlled our destiny and to protect ourselves from magic we needed to burn fellow humans to death. The early scientists were heroic as they challenged the orthodoxy of state a I feel a little silly to be disappointed that a book about scientists had too much science for my enjoyment. The history of science is fascinating. To think of how much our knowledge has grown in just 500 years and exponentially over the past 200! It really wasn’t so long ago that most “educated” people believed the stars controlled our destiny and to protect ourselves from magic we needed to burn fellow humans to death. The early scientists were heroic as they challenged the orthodoxy of state and church. The first half of Gribben’s history is fascinating, Likely because I could understand 80% of the rudimentary science. As time passed my understanding plummeted and so did my reading pleasure. I’m sure a more scientifically astute reader will get more enjoyment from this history than I.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Chuck A

    This was a thoroughly enjoyable read from front to back. It goes into detail (but not too much detail) all of the scientific advances and personalities throughout the last 500 years of western science. This book goes right up there with Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality as my favorite books. Highly recommend to anyone with an interest in science or the history of science. Gribbin is a great writer who presents complicated scientific concepts so that the average joe (me) can not only understand them This was a thoroughly enjoyable read from front to back. It goes into detail (but not too much detail) all of the scientific advances and personalities throughout the last 500 years of western science. This book goes right up there with Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality as my favorite books. Highly recommend to anyone with an interest in science or the history of science. Gribbin is a great writer who presents complicated scientific concepts so that the average joe (me) can not only understand them (as much as one can with no background in mathematics) but develop a further interest in specific fields. This was an inspiring book that made me stoked to read more about science!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    Phew! I was suffering from some serious scientific history fatigue towards the end of this book. Gribbin has produced a very interesting book here. The absence of the more obscure characters in the history of science or the lack of detail about them was disappointing as was the strong focus on physics but even so this book was enjoyable. Gribbin sums up scientific discoveries and theories well and provides the reader with interesting details about well known scientific figures. There are a lot of Phew! I was suffering from some serious scientific history fatigue towards the end of this book. Gribbin has produced a very interesting book here. The absence of the more obscure characters in the history of science or the lack of detail about them was disappointing as was the strong focus on physics but even so this book was enjoyable. Gribbin sums up scientific discoveries and theories well and provides the reader with interesting details about well known scientific figures. There are a lot of gaps in the scientific record when reading and I was getting tired of being told that such and such a theory was beyond the scope of the book but Gribbin is a good story teller and communicator making up for some of the aforementioned shortcomings.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Tyas

    A great book about the concise history of science.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Mscout

    Excellent history of science told through the life of scientists. Gribbin has just the right touch of snark, and his own training as a scientist gives him a unique perspective.

  14. 5 out of 5

    The Final Chapter

    High 4. This exceptional work tackles such a broad subject while maintaining absolute clarity of subject matter for the general reader. The author explains his choice of starting point at 1543 as marking both landmark publications in the fields of astronomy and biology respectively of Copernicus’ ‘On the Revolution of Celestial Bodies’, and Andreas Vesalius’ ‘On the Structure of the Human Body’. Copernicus revolutionised astronomy by proposing an alternative to the geocentric Ptolemaic model of High 4. This exceptional work tackles such a broad subject while maintaining absolute clarity of subject matter for the general reader. The author explains his choice of starting point at 1543 as marking both landmark publications in the fields of astronomy and biology respectively of Copernicus’ ‘On the Revolution of Celestial Bodies’, and Andreas Vesalius’ ‘On the Structure of the Human Body’. Copernicus revolutionised astronomy by proposing an alternative to the geocentric Ptolemaic model of the universe, which had held sway since the second century AD. Yet, Copernicus also bridged classical and modern science, as his theory of a heliocentric universe did not rest on empirical methods. He even had misgivings, which delayed publication of his ideas, fully formed as early as 1510, that his model did not adequately explain how the stars appeared fixed, given the implicit motion of the Earth around the Sun. Upon publication, soon after his death, his ideas did not spark wide sales or a religious backlash due to a preface written by a Lutheran pastor stipulating that they constituted one theoretical mathematical model and not any accurate depiction of the Universe. Gribbins states that Vesalius, like Copernicus, drew inspiration from ancient thinkers, specifically, Galen. With human dissection frowned upon in the second century AD, the latter’s work, based on studies of animals, thus contained inaccuracies. Vesalius had no such limitations, enjoying the tacit support of the city authorities in Padua to time his human dissections in the wake of public executions. Thus, overcoming the shortcomings in Galen’s research, he greatly advanced knowledge of human anatomy. One of those to profit from Vesalius’ successors at Padua University was William Harvey, whose later marriage to the daughter of the physician to Elizabeth I, Lancelot Browne, led both to his appointment as physician at St Barts, and as court physician to both James I and Charles I. These duties meant his momentous discovery of the circulation of the blood was completed in his spare time. What established Harvey as a key figure in the history of modern science was his use of empirical reasoning to establish his theory. Previously, it was assumed veins transported blood for use by human tissue, while arteries carried the ‘vital spirit’ from the lungs. Harvey demonstrated by simply measuring the capacity of the human heart that blood must be continually circulating, and that both veins and arteries played a role. The next influential figure in astronomy, Tycho Brahe, was a firebrand from the ranks of the nobility of Danish-controlled Sweden. His 1572 observation of a supernova led him to dismiss previous theories of the stars being fixed and permanent, and fired his obsession to plot more accurate projections of the movement of heavenly bodies. As his own star rose, the Danish monarchy sought to raise their prestige, giving him his own island of Hveen in the Danish Sound to establish as his home and his own observatory complex. Yet, in 1588 Brahe’s arrogance alienated the monarchy, forcing him to seek refuge as mathematician to the Holy Roman Emperor in Prague. The wealth of observational data Brahe accumulated thereby came into the possession of Johannes Kepler, employed as the former’s assistant in 1601 after years of correspondence. In contrast to Brahe, Kepler had no advantages of birth, his father being an impoverished noble and wastrel, forced to eke a living as a mercenary soldier, before simply disappearing. Kepler’s adherence to Copernican views not only led to his shelving plans to enter the Lutheran ministry but brought him at odds with Brahe’s request that his data be used to support the Ptolemaic model. Despite his eyesight being devastated by childhood smallpox, preventing him observing the heavens himself, his immense powers of mathematical reasoning allowed him to use Brahe’s data to ‘flesh out’ the motion of the planets, especially their elliptical orbits round the Sun. Though his later work would be hindered by the turmoil of the Thirty Years’ War, and defending his mother against charges of witchcraft, one of his earlier ideas would inspire the work of those who were to follow; namely, his assertion of a force keeping planets in thrall to the Sun, which he termed ‘vigour’. In the author’s opinion, the first individual truly deserving comparison with the modern scientist was William Gilbert due to his tireless testing of his hypotheses on electricity and magnetism. He was not only the first to study these forces since the ancient Greeks, but also to employ wholesale empirical techniques. Even Galileo regarded him as the founder of ‘experimental science’. A gentleman amateur and last personal physician to Elizabeth I, he would finally publish his findings of 18 years of study in 1600, three years before his death. Not only did he discover the rules of magnetic attraction and repulsion, and identify the Earth as one enormous magnet (thereby naming the extremities of magnets as ‘poles’), but so thorough was his research that no new substantial discoveries would be made in this field till the 1820s. Moreover, by arguing that the orbits of the planets were held constant through the force of magnetism, even suggesting distant stars might be Sun-like bodies with their own orbiting habitable planets, his work influenced Kepler. This is not to deny Galileo’s prominence, who undoubtedly published the first modern scientific textbook with his ‘Discourses and Mathematical Demonstrations Concerning Two New Sciences’. This summarised his work on mechanics, spelled out his belief in the scientific method, and stated mathematical rules governed the workings of the universe. After his trial, Galileo’s book had to be smuggled out of Italy, becoming a European bestseller decades after its original publication in 1638. It is impossible to assess Galileo’s influence on scientific thought without linking it to his clash with the papacy, with its implicit conflict between faith and reason. As Galileo’s reputation grew so his support for Copernican views, declared heretical in 1616, caused greater scrutiny from Rome. Though his position became more uncertain with the deaths of his principal protectors in Rome in 1621, he was invited to author a book detailing the two rival models of the universe. This was with the tacit suggestion that he could teach both models, but not openly support the Copernican one. His ‘Dialogue on the Two Chief Systems’, published in 1632, adopted the traditional format of presenting ideas through an imaginary dialogue, but made serious miscalculations. Not only did he use the names of two dead ex-associates, rather than fictional characters, to pitch for the Copernican model, but also had them gradually win over the impartial commentator. Finally, in naming of the defender of the heliocentric model in homage to Simplicus, the Ancient Greek commentator on Aristotle’s work, he lay himself open to charges that the name could also imply a ‘simpleton’. Though passed for publication by the papacy’s censor, a papal commission was subsequently set up into the work, summoning the author to Rome to face charges of heresy. Although the trial was a victory for Galileo’s Jesuit enemies, his supporters were eventually able to commute his sentence to one of enforced confinement at home. Descartes’ importance to this story is his influence on the development of mathematics, and physics. Serving as a military engineer in several European armies, he was able to refine his mathematical reasoning, and establish that the position of any object could be represented as a co-ordinate of three numbers, marking the foundation of analytical geometry. His family’s substantial wealth allowed him to renounce his military career to pursue independent studies around Europe between 1629 and 1633, during which time he prepared a huge treatise on physics. News of Galileo’s trial delayed him publishing his work, but his devout Catholicism did not deflect him from stating that the world was governed by the laws of physics, thereby vouchsafing his influence on European scientific thought in the century to come. A contemporary of Galileo and Descartes, Robert Boyle was the leading light in the establishment of the scientific method in England, drawing on the inspiration of Francis Bacon, who stated that all research should spring from data to furnish explanations, rather than initiate with a theory and proceed to establish facts to support it. Despite his eponymous First Law, his most famous work is contained in ‘The Sceptical Chymist’, published in 1661. In this work, he coined the term ‘chemical analysis’ to determine the composition of materials, and declared that all matter was composed of constituent particles. Yet, he also sought to bring Baconian rigour to alchemy, rather than discard it completely. In discussing the relative merits of Robert Hooke and Isaac Newton, Gribbins states an unbiased historian would be unable to distinguish between their contributions to science. Hooke rose from humble beginnings, working as a servant to richer students to fund his studies, and providing tireless assistance to Boyle, whose patronage and generosity gave him access to the Royal Society. Aside from transforming this gentleman’s club into the archetypal scientific forum it became, his greatest work, ‘Micrographia’, was published in 1664, marking the first substantial publication on microscopy. Moreover, Hooke coined the term ‘cell’, was the first to claim that fossils represented former life-forms, stated light was composed of waves, and nearly uncovered oxygen a century before its actual discovery. From the outset Newton was obsessive about his research, often experimenting on himself to the point of nearly going blind from staring at the sun, or by inserting a needle in his eye to study the resulting coloured images. Many of his discoveries date from his early career, due to the distraction of his life-long interest in alchemy. Yet, the secretiveness of his character and his work allowed him to claim timing of discoveries which may have been at odds with reality. Moreover, not only did Newton dismiss others’ genius in terms of his own, but he commonly held grudges. In the author’s view, Hooke’s greatest mistake was to incur Newton’s hatred and die before him, allowing Newton to rewrite history. Their altercation resulted from Newton learning of Hooke’s disgruntlement at his failure not to acknowledge the influence of the latter’s work on his. Unquestionably, in correspondence stretching over a decade before publication of Newton’s ‘Principia Mathematica’ in 1687, Hooke provided many insights to further the former’s work, for which he should have received credit. To illustrate this, Hooke referred to planets exerting ‘gravitational power’ towards their centres. More importantly, he also stated that all bodies placed in motion would continue in a straight line, unless deflected by another force – now known as Newton’s First Law of Motion. Such was Newton’s determination to avoid accrediting Hooke’s work any value that his epic publication on light and colour, which he sat on for 30 years, was not published till 1704, 12 months after his rival’s death. Newton’s scientific legacy is immense, including the development of calculus, allowing the accurate measurement of change over time. There is no doubt that Newton developed this first, nor that Leibnitz arrived at the idea independently, and that the latter’s is the more comprehensible version. Yet, were it not for Edmund Halley’s constant haranguing, and soothing of Newton’s moods, together with his willingness to fund the printing, none of Newton’s ideas may ever have been published. Halley, whose inventiveness equalled that of Hooke, should be considered as the first true post-Newtonian scientist. He first came to prominence, as a confident undergraduate, in querying the veracity of astronomical data with the newly appointed first Astronomer Royal, John Flamsteed. Though once regarded as the latter’s protégé, Halley’s affairs with married women and colourful lifestyle clashed with Flamsteed’s prudish character. This fact, combined with the Astronomer Royal’s attitude that, due to his limited salary and need to provide his own instruments, his work was his own, led to his refusing to share any data with Halley and others who wished to record more accurately the trajectory and position of heavenly bodies. Gribbins regards Halley’s analytical mind to have been on a par with that of Hooke’s, and notes his main achievement was in mapping the position of the stars. Though, credit for the publication of his definitive version of the star catalogue in 1725 should partly go to Newton, who petitioned Queen Anne for a royal warrant to access Flamsteed’s data after the latter’s death. The author notes that in many scientific disciplines in the wake of Newton, this history becomes adorned by a long list of developments from many quarters so that science became the protagonist at the expense of many of the individuals who contributed. Yet, this work still provides fascinating accounts of some whose name became so influential. First among these is Linnaeus, whose obsessive compulsive need to establish order resulted in his classification of every botanical species. One astonishing detail is that he achieved this monumental feat whilst simultaneously pursuing his medical studies. To him can be attributed the binomial system we know today, and though the idea of identifying a species through two-word names was not his, he systematised it. It is also Linnaeus who first classified species according to hierarchical relationships down from class, order and genus. More controversially, in his revised 10th edition of 1758, he was the first to classify mankind in the same vein, placing us under the order of primates, stating courageously ‘If I were to call man “ape” or vice versa, I should bring down all the theologians on my head. But, perhaps I should still do it according to the rules of science’. Gribbins highlights that the crediting of scientific discoveries has often been down to pure luck with the work of many enthusiastic and gifted amateurs failing to achieve the acclaim their work would merit. As such, there was nothing original about the idea of evolution by the time Darwin entered centre stage. However, as the author stresses, what was distinct about the work of both Darwin and Wallace was their originating a sound scientific basis behind the theory. Darwin’s own grandfather, Erasmus, had published his own ideas on evolution based on observations drawn from human intervention in the breeding of certain species, even suggesting that all life may have originated from one common source. Upon returning from the voyage of the Beagle in 1836, Charles Darwin became convinced that evolution was a fact of life, but had still not identified the mechanism which lay behind it. The author reveals that a key step in him solving this was his reading of the work of Thomas Malthus in the autumn of 1838. The latter’s work, especially on those factors which kept animal populations in check, such as pestilence, predators, and the availability of food supplies enabled him to leap to the conclusion that the key behind evolution was the ‘struggle of the fittest’ in response to such pressures. Though his theory was fully-formed by 1842, Darwin did not rush to publish it, afraid of upsetting both his wife’s and the general public’s religious beliefs, and unleashing public disapproval. Yet, in his second edition of the ‘Voyage of the Beagle’ published in 1845, he added material, scattered across paragraphs, which, if read as a whole, would spell out this theory on natural selection. Moreover, a manuscript penned by him a year earlier was left among his papers with a bequest to his wife that it be published after his death. Alfred Russell Wallace had been a run-of-the-mill surveyor till he took the courageous step of funding his own expedition as an amateur enthusiast naturalist to South America between 1848 and 1852. Though he lost a younger brother to yellow fever and his specimens to the ocean floor when his ship home was lost at sea, Wallace continued to pursue his dream of unlocking the mystery of evolution in the Far East. This region was virgin territory to such research ensuring any specimens he collected would be both more scientifically valuable and lucrative. Throughout this 8-year expedition, he would maintain a close correspondence with Darwin, who was one of Wallace’s customers for specimens. Within their exchanges Darwin hinted at publishing his own theory of evolution without providing concrete details, and this merely served to drive Wallace on to form his own ideas. Totally, independently, Wallace also hit upon the connection with Malthus’ theories, and sent a paper in the spring of 1858 to Darwin outlining his ideas requesting the latter’s views. Despite being shocked at seeing the possibility of his own ideas being pre-empted, Darwin honourably sent Wallace’s paper onto his friend Charles Lyell, intending that it should be proposed for publication. The latter, keenly aware that Darwin was enmeshed in arranging the funeral of his infant son from scarlet fever, took the matter into his own hands, deciding to publish the paper with a preface consisting of Darwin’s own outline of his theory from 1844, and thereby ensuring the latter’s place in the pantheon of great scientists. As Gribbins reveals, though one would expect Wallace to harbour resentment at these events, he himself always refereed to the theory of natural selection as ‘Darwinism’ and would even write that the greatest satisfaction he could derive from his own work was that it acted as a spur to his contemporary to publish his ‘Origin of the Species’. Such levels of respect were mutual as it would be Darwin who would rescue Wallace’s reputation, which had become tarnished from his tinkering with spiritualism, and his financial security, by petitioning Queen Victoria to grant Wallace a pension for life in recognition of his contribution to science. There is not enough room here to give mention to many other eminent scientists who grace the pages of Gribbins’ history, and the author litters each story with fascinating detail. Perhaps, this is the one weakness of the book in that it does attempt to cover such a vast terrain of scientific endeavour that at times the reader becomes exhausted at the number of stories within the overall narrative. However, one of the abiding strengths of this work is the manner in which the author is able to shine the historical limelight on those who have slipped into the shadows. One such individual rescued from obscurity by Gribbins is Edward Tyson, who should be regarded as the father of comparative anatomy. Though professionally a doctor at the infamous Bethlehem Hospital in London, determined to reform the climate of abuse which pervaded the asylum, his most important legacy to science was a series of landmark dissections he performed in the 1680s and 90s as an enthused amateur scientist. In the first, assisted by Hooke, he discovered a porpoise’s mammalian internal structure. In the second of a young chimpanzee in 1698, he would anticipate Darwin in listing 48 areas of resemblance closer to humans than other monkeys. Another noteworthy figure worthy of rediscovery is Robert Recorde. It is to him we owe our basic language of mathematics, without which scientific research would not have made the rapid progress it did. As a graduate of both Oxford and Cambridge, this native of Tenby, South Wales, would introduce in his works of the 1540s and 50s the mathematical symbols ‘+, -, and =’ but would himself be destined to die unheralded in a debtor’s prison.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Tom Schulte

    I so enjoyed In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality I wanted to read more from the author. I find this one to be two books in one, with only the first rising to the level of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. The first one lives up to the subtitle by detailing the personal and business lives of scientists as expressed in their time and place. This paints a picture of the Scientific Revolution start basically with the Copernican Revolution (initiated I so enjoyed In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality I wanted to read more from the author. I find this one to be two books in one, with only the first rising to the level of In Search of Schrödinger's Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. The first one lives up to the subtitle by detailing the personal and business lives of scientists as expressed in their time and place. This paints a picture of the Scientific Revolution start basically with the Copernican Revolution (initiated in 1543) and to be complete in the "grand synthesis" of Isaac Newton's 1687 Principia. and involving the progress of science inspired the creation of scientific societies such as the Royal Society, and Galileo who championed Copernicus and developed the science of motion. During this time it reads like science is fitfully freed from the clutches of a resistant religious establishment and battling the deluded outlook of human specialism: perfect heavens, immutable earth, centrality in the cosmos, etc. The second half focuses on biology (DNA), radiation, and physics onto quantum physics. Here the lives of the scientists recedes into the background during a breathless recounting of advances. It feels rushed and I think it would have been better to focus on the 16th to 18th centuries and leave it there.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Mickaël A

    The history of science is fascinating. It is a good idea to tell it through the life of their inventors. Some links between scientific breakthroughs are worth telling. However the levels of details John Gribbin goes into is not adapted to the story telling of WHOLE science. Some parts are amazingly long and detailing minor facts like the social or political backgrounds. Interesting as they are, they don't deserve dozen of pages at once... Many other parts are very short and the author often stat The history of science is fascinating. It is a good idea to tell it through the life of their inventors. Some links between scientific breakthroughs are worth telling. However the levels of details John Gribbin goes into is not adapted to the story telling of WHOLE science. Some parts are amazingly long and detailing minor facts like the social or political backgrounds. Interesting as they are, they don't deserve dozen of pages at once... Many other parts are very short and the author often states "this is not the place to go to much into details". After reading I felt like knowing a lot more but missing a lot more as well. Mathematics are totally missing (no Gauss, Poincaré, Fermat, almost no Leibnitz, Euler...). Biology, Chemistry and most of all Astronomy is well represented. I found some parts fascinating like the invention of the telescope, the discovery of radioactivity or the measurement of the age of the Earth.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dede

    A marvelous overview of scientists of the Western world. Gives a brief bio of each contributing scientists. One "theme" that seems apparent throughout the centuries is that the history of scientific discoveries depends on those bright, inquisitive minds who have the means and the leisure to develop their thinking and their ideas. There are exceptions, to be sure, but mostly wealth promotes the scientist who makes the discoveries. Another "theme" is how politics and religion and myth have stifled A marvelous overview of scientists of the Western world. Gives a brief bio of each contributing scientists. One "theme" that seems apparent throughout the centuries is that the history of scientific discoveries depends on those bright, inquisitive minds who have the means and the leisure to develop their thinking and their ideas. There are exceptions, to be sure, but mostly wealth promotes the scientist who makes the discoveries. Another "theme" is how politics and religion and myth have stifled scientific discovery. My take away is that, those who show cranial potential should be given the means, educated, and encouraged. That is the way to grow scientific discoveries exponentially and make our world a better place to live for all. John Gribbin is a good writer who makes the Western world's scientific discoveries accessible to someone like me, who has no training in physics, chemistry, or biology. I had fun reading this book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joel Collier

    A continuous, biographic history of scientists from Copernicus onwards. The book captures the adventure and drama of scientific discovery and ties together scientific progress into an engaging story. One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read for the science, the history, and the adventure. If I could have a complaint, it’s that the Gribbin story of science is dangerously close to a morality tale. He posits the acceptance of the scientific method as a causal principle in the history of inte A continuous, biographic history of scientists from Copernicus onwards. The book captures the adventure and drama of scientific discovery and ties together scientific progress into an engaging story. One of the most interesting books I’ve ever read for the science, the history, and the adventure. If I could have a complaint, it’s that the Gribbin story of science is dangerously close to a morality tale. He posits the acceptance of the scientific method as a causal principle in the history of intellectual progress without treating this empirical theory with the rigor required by the scientific method. All is forgiven in fascinating page after page of discovery. The book is dense with discovery, e.g., the difference between covalent and ionic bonds is covered in two paragraphs. Einstein only has a few pages. But Gribbin makes it work to tell a cogent story without scrimping on the science. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Daniel Parker

    What a book! Engaging, informative, and full of curiosity. I cannot imagine the amount of time it must have taken for the author to research the history of science and how it has brought us to where we are today. As a non-scientist, I enjoyed reading this even if I do not understand all of the findings. The author goes to great lengths to include a bit of history on the scientists, some of whom had previously been lost to history by more notable names. The reader will leave with a greater unders What a book! Engaging, informative, and full of curiosity. I cannot imagine the amount of time it must have taken for the author to research the history of science and how it has brought us to where we are today. As a non-scientist, I enjoyed reading this even if I do not understand all of the findings. The author goes to great lengths to include a bit of history on the scientists, some of whom had previously been lost to history by more notable names. The reader will leave with a greater understanding of scientific progress against the backdrop of human history, and how much we have learned through human determination and curiosity in a really small window of time.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rod Lee

    This book is an excellent introduction to the history of science with an emphasis on individual scientists and their accomplishments and struggles - all told along a timeline from 1543 to 2001. I am a community college instructor of physics and astronomy, and often read history of science books so that I can add interesting details to class lectures. This book has helped me see the interconnectedness and persons behind the development of the various sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, geology This book is an excellent introduction to the history of science with an emphasis on individual scientists and their accomplishments and struggles - all told along a timeline from 1543 to 2001. I am a community college instructor of physics and astronomy, and often read history of science books so that I can add interesting details to class lectures. This book has helped me see the interconnectedness and persons behind the development of the various sciences: biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and astronomy. I recommend this book to anyone wanting to understand the people behind the evolution of natural philosophy into modern science.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jon Lisle-Summers

    This book needs the word Western inserted between Of and Science. Otherwise, it's a tremendous excursion through the minds and achievements of 'modern science" which has, until quite recently, dominated the globe. Indian, Chinese and Islamic science don't get a look-in here at all, which is a pity. In reality, some of the shoulders of giants upon which Isaac Newton stood came from these other great traditions. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it, was entertained and educated by it. This book needs the word Western inserted between Of and Science. Otherwise, it's a tremendous excursion through the minds and achievements of 'modern science" which has, until quite recently, dominated the globe. Indian, Chinese and Islamic science don't get a look-in here at all, which is a pity. In reality, some of the shoulders of giants upon which Isaac Newton stood came from these other great traditions. Nevertheless I still enjoyed it, was entertained and educated by it.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Robert Crow

    A quick-moving description of science and scientists from Out of the Dark Ages to Outer Space. Engaging personal stories about many prominent and lessor-known but important scientists. Readers are treated to a wonderful ride through history of science to today. I enjoyed it much and recommend it to those who are curious about how sciences came about and evolved.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    The biographical approach to the history of science makes this topic accessible and interesting to those who are more literature and arts minded. I have this 4 stars rather than 5 because the last 1/4 of the book was incomprehensible to me; the sections on physics and chemistry were not put well enough into layman’s terms. Aside from this slight criticism, I highly recommend this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian Hutzell

    John Gribbin does his best to make difficult scientific concepts digestible to laymen like me. Even so, there were many times while reading this book that I felt more than a little at sea. It was an enjoyable read, nevertheless, and at least provided me with a nice historical overview of science thought from Copernicus right up to the 21st Century. Sure to come in handy for my sci-fi binges!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Bo Howell

    An ambitious overview of science since the middle ages. If you can make it to the end, you'll be happy you did (and happy that you're done). Mr. Gribbin's writing is crisp and precise, but at times the material is dry and it can be slightly complex. An ambitious overview of science since the middle ages. If you can make it to the end, you'll be happy you did (and happy that you're done). Mr. Gribbin's writing is crisp and precise, but at times the material is dry and it can be slightly complex.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Johan Dahlbäck

    This book tries to tell the history of science though both the experiments and the scientists. The science parts were fun, but all the personal stories were quite similar and could actually have been left out. 600 pages that could have been told in 300.

  27. 4 out of 5

    William Sherlock

    Very readable history of scientists This is a very readable history of science which brings the scientists to life and flesh and blood humans, not cold rationalists and what they found, step by step, each building on the work of their predecessors. A good read.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Robert M.

    This is one of the best history books I have ever read. Gribbin writes about the lives, habits, and work of the scientists as though they were contemporaries. It has taken me a long time, because it is a big book, but I have never been bored. I have bought copies for grandsons and friends.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Higgs

    Just an excellent book.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Greg Parrott

    A view of the history of science from the biographical notes of the scientists showing how each built on the prior work of the others; sometimes in a good way. sometimes not.

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