Cover of John Gribbin: Science

John Gribbin Science

A History

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Penguin Books










This title begins with Galileo and takes the reader through to the scientific developments of string theory. An accessible narrative history, it focuses on the way in which science has progressed by building on what went before and details the work of science's greatest minds.


In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), Thomas S Kuhn tried to break free from the traditional view of scientific discovery as resulting from the heroic achievements of the great men of science. Kuhn announced a "historiographic revolution", arguing that the history of science was not merely the story of a steadily accumulating body of facts, but a complex activity embedded in a historical, social and philosophical context. In his latest book, the astrophysicist and prolific science writer John Gribbin rejects Kuhn's view and reverts to exploring the progress of science through the lives of scientists. He admits that such an "old-fashioned" approach will be unpopular among "professional historians", but argues that "the two keys to scientific progress are the personal touch and building gradually on what has gone before. Science is made by people, not people by science." His journey through the history of science begins in 1543, the publication date of two seminal texts: Vesalius's On the Structure of the Human Body and Copernicus's On the Revolutions of Celestial Bodies. Both works radically transformed our view of ourselves and our place in the universe: they caused (to use Kuhn's apt phrase) a paradigm shift in our understanding of the world. From the origins of western science in the Renaissance, Gribbin plots his course for the present day, traveling via the Newtonian and Darwinian revolutions, astronomy, chemistry, geology, and atomic theory, before arriving in the modern era with the New Physics, genetics and the Big Bang. While being rather unadventurous in exploring individual psychology of his heroes and heroines, Gribbin excels at making complex science intelligible to the general reader. His chapter on atoms and molecules is a model of clarity. Similarly, his account of Faraday's ground-breaking exploration of electricity is charged with the excitement of discovery. Gribbin has a real passion for his subject, and is at his best describing the development of physics. If you're looking for a book that captures the personal drama and achievement of science, then look no further.

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