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A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechaniks

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We all know the history of science that we learned from grade school textbooks: How Galileo used his telescope to show that the earth was not the center of the universe; how Newton divined gravity from the falling apple; how Einstein unlocked the mysteries of time and space with a simple equation. This history is made up of long periods of ignorance and confusion, punctuated once an age by a brilliant thinker who puts it all together. These few tower over the ordinary mass of people, and in the traditional ...

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A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks

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Overview

We all know the history of science that we learned from grade school textbooks: How Galileo used his telescope to show that the earth was not the center of the universe; how Newton divined gravity from the falling apple; how Einstein unlocked the mysteries of time and space with a simple equation. This history is made up of long periods of ignorance and confusion, punctuated once an age by a brilliant thinker who puts it all together. These few tower over the ordinary mass of people, and in the traditional account, it is to them that we owe science in its entirety. This belief is wrong. A People's History of Science shows how ordinary people participate in creating science and have done so throughout history. It documents how the development of science has affected ordinary people, and how ordinary people perceived that development. It would be wrong to claim that the formulation of quantum theory or the structure of DNA can be credited directly to artisans or peasants, but if modern science is likened to a skyscraper, then those twentieth-century triumphs are the sophisticated filigrees at its pinnacle that are supported by the massive foundation created by the rest of us.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Moving chronologically from the science of the ancients to the science of the present, former history teacher Conner follows in the footsteps of Howard Zinn's classic A People's History of the United States by seeking to illuminate the contributions of "anonymous masses of humble people" to the origins of scientific knowledge, something he believes has seldom been explored or appreciated by historians, scientists, and the public. To this end, the first seven chapters are successful. By concisely covering cultures around the world and multiple areas of science-not just theoretical science, like mathematics or chemistry, but practical, useful areas such as ceramics, telescopes, and architecture-Conner makes his point. He underscores how a particular piece of scientific knowledge (e.g., navigation from eastern Africa to China and the islands of Indonesia and the Philippines) was the creation of generations of ordinary sailors. Less successful are the final two chapters, in which Conner moves away from the history of science to his own view of science and its connections to politics, economics, and society. Despite this flaw, his eloquently written book is accessible to lay readers and equally valuable for scholars. Highly recommended for all history of science collections.-Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, RTP, Raleigh, NC Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Revisionist history with a strong proletarian bent. Conner is out to dethrone the Great Men of science (Galileo, Newton, Darwin) and replace them with a cast of men (and women), often anonymous, who fueled advances in science largely through their technological prowess. Thus are celebrated the Polynesian star-gazing navigators of prehistory and the pre-Socratics, as well as the bricklayers, potters, miners, midwives, weavers, dyers, glassblowers, clockmakers and other artisans of medieval and modern times. The voyages of discovery? Made possible by crafty crews and kidnapped native guides. Star maps? Local folk were drafted to do the meticulous work, while the likes of Tycho Brahe took credit. The elite of the Royal Societies and Academies hardly ever credited their loyal assistants, fostering the Great Men approach adopted by most historians of science. Clearly there is a lot to be said for the unsung, and we can be grateful to Conner for providing context and technical details for discoveries and inventions that fueled the scientific and industrial revolutions. But the frequent inveighing against Western imperialism and capitalism is tiresome. By the time Conner reaches the modern era, he has much to say about the military industrial complex, Big Pharma and his growing distrust of science. His solution, to bring science, technology and industry under democratic control in the context of a global planned economy, seems pure wishful thinking. Lots of useful technology history here, but the volume shouldn't stand alone.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781560257486
  • Publisher: Nation Books
  • Publication date: 11/9/2005
  • Series: Nation Books
  • Pages: 554
  • Sales rank: 809,929
  • Product dimensions: 8.16 (w) x 10.88 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Clifford D. Conner teaches at John Jay School of Criminal Law in New York. His previous writings on the era of the French Revolution include a biography of Jean-Paul Marat.

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