Book Review: The Scientists

I was browsing through a book store the other day when I found The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of its Greatest Inventors by John Gribbon. I haven’t read the book, but it looks like a fabulous resource for teachers who want to know more about the scientists involved in the growth and development of science. I am really interested in using it to teach a science class chronologically – teaching content based on when it was discovered, rather than in the traditional format. The book would also be a great resource for students if they are doing projects or writing on individual scientists.

Publishers Weekly says, “As expansive (and as massive) as a textbook, this remarkably readable popular history explores the development of modern science through the individual stories of philosophers and scientists both renowned and overlooked. Prolific popular science writer Gribbin wants to use the lives of these thinkers to show how they “reflect the society in which they lived, and… the way the work of one specific scientist followed from that of another.” While he makes this case well, the real joy in the book can be found in the way Gribbin (who has made complex science understandable in such books as In Search of Schr”dinger’s Cat) revels not just in the development of science but also in the human details of his subjects’ lives. He writes, “Science is made from people, not people by science,” and the book weaves together countless stories of the people who made science, from the arrogance and political maneuverings of Tycho Brahe in the 16th century to Benjamin Thompson’s exploits during the American Revolution as a spy for the British and his later life as Count Rumford of Bavaria (in the realm of science, he studied convection and helped discredit the caloric theory of heat). Though the names and discoveries become more and more prolific as the book reaches the 19th century, Gribbin does an admirable job of organizing his narrative around coherent topics (e.g., “The Darwinian Revolution,” “Atoms and Molecules,” “The Realm of Life”), leaving the reader exhausted by the journey, but in awe of the personalities and the sheer scope of 500 years’ worth of scientific discovery.”

Gribbin has authored other notable books including In Search of Schrodinger’s Cat: Quantum Physics and Reality. I’m excited to start to build a library of his work in the near future!


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