The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

( 14 )

Overview

In his most important book to date, award-winning author Timothy Ferris?"the best popular science writer in the English language today" (Christian Science Monitor)?makes a passionate case for science as the inspiration behind the rise of liberalism and democracy. Ferris argues that just as the scientific revolution rescued billions from poverty, fear, hunger, and disease, the Enlightenment values it inspired has swelled the number of persons living in free and democratic societies from less than 1 percent of the ...

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The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature

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Overview

In his most important book to date, award-winning author Timothy Ferris—"the best popular science writer in the English language today" (Christian Science Monitor)—makes a passionate case for science as the inspiration behind the rise of liberalism and democracy. Ferris argues that just as the scientific revolution rescued billions from poverty, fear, hunger, and disease, the Enlightenment values it inspired has swelled the number of persons living in free and democratic societies from less than 1 percent of the world population four centuries ago to more than a third today.

Ferris deftly investigates the evolution of these scientific and political revolutions, demonstrating that they are inextricably bound. He shows how science was integral to the American Revolution but misinterpreted in the French Revolution; reflects on the history of liberalism, stressing its widely underestimated and mutually beneficial relationship with science; and surveys the forces that have opposed science and liberalism—from communism and fascism to postmodernism and Islamic fundamentalism.

A sweeping intellectual history, The Science of Liberty is a stunningly original work that transcends the antiquated concepts of left and right.

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Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post
“An important, timely, and splendidly written book. . . . Ferris is among the half-dozen foremost explicators of the physical sciences alive today. . . . The Science of Liberty is a profound delight.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Engaging. . . . Ambitious. . . . Ferris usefully reminds us that science was an integral part of the intellectual equipment of the great pioneers of political and individual liberty.”
The Financial Times
“Unfashionably optimistic. . . . Ferris provides irrefutable evidence that, despite the tragedies of war and terrorism, there has been astounding progress in both the living standards and the degree of personal freedom enjoyed by the majority of the human race.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“An important and extremely readable book. . . . Lively. . . . Clear and perceptive. . . . Ferris is one of America’s most skillful communicators about science. . . . He shows himself a fascinating historian too.”
Curt Suplee
An academic polymath known chiefly as the author of The Whole Shebang, about cosmology, and other uncommonly lucid books, [Ferris] is among the half-dozen foremost explicators of the physical sciences alive today. He is also a man for whom the English language is not a tool, but an instrument on which to perform with grace and precision. As a result, The Science of Liberty is a profound delight whether one puts it down convinced or not…Even when he is covering familiar ground, Ferris's perspective is a joy…
—The Washington Post
Kirkus Reviews
Prolific science writer Ferris (Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril, 2002, etc.) explains how liberal democracy and a robust scientific environment walk hand in hand. If one thinks of democracy as an elected government that guarantees human rights and freedoms-in its most basic, unadorned form-and science as the social enterprise of research involving observation and experiment, then what follows is self-evident: Liberal democracy's anti-authoritarianism and freedom of speech, travel and association allows for all available intellectual sources to be tapped in the service of scientific skepticism and experimentation. Science flourishes in a flexible milieu, increasing knowledge, power and wealth, and thus demonstrating that liberal governance works, no matter how inelegantly. As Ferris writes, "this book favors the messy, selfish, and often foolish and greedy push-and-pull of democracies as they are-neither rational nor expert but experimental-as better tuned to the spirit of science than are enchantments with authoritarian expertise and top-down planning." The author thoroughly and eloquently establishes the link between science and liberty, starting with the Renaissance and running through today, providing overviews of turning points in the progress of democracy and science and vest-pocket profiles of important personalities like Bacon, Galileo, Descartes, Newton, Locke and Paine-not to forget the venalities of Hitler, Stalin and Mao. Questions that flow from the narrative-When does the state put a governor on free enterprise? How does the Tuskegee syphilis experiment apply? What is the role of science inimperialism and colonialism?-are handled with intelligence and sensitivity, taking a cue from the invariant ethics Ferris would like to see guide science, which include truth-telling and ethical, even humanistic practices. Ferris keenly demonstrates that the health and happiness of the planet is tied to a strong marriage of science and democracy.
The Financial Times
“Unfashionably optimistic. . . . Ferris provides irrefutable evidence that, despite the tragedies of war and terrorism, there has been astounding progress in both the living standards and the degree of personal freedom enjoyed by the majority of the human race.”
The Washington Post
“An important, timely, and splendidly written book. . . . Ferris is among the half-dozen foremost explicators of the physical sciences alive today. . . . The Science of Liberty is a profound delight.”
The New York Times Book Review
“Engaging. . . . Ambitious. . . . Ferris usefully reminds us that science was an integral part of the intellectual equipment of the great pioneers of political and individual liberty.”
The San Francisco Chronicle
“An important and extremely readable book. . . . Lively. . . . Clear and perceptive. . . . Ferris is one of America’s most skillful communicators about science. . . . He shows himself a fascinating historian too.”
A. C. Grayling
“Lucid and captivating. . . . Deeply important. . . . Ferris’s clear and educative account makes for an enjoyable read.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060781514
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 2/8/2011
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 779,092
  • Product dimensions: 5.84 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

Timothy Ferris

Timothy Ferris's works include Seeing in the Dark, The Mind's Sky (both New York Times best books of the year), and The Whole Shebang (listed by American Scientist as one of the one hundred most influential books of the twentieth century). A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Ferris has taught in five disciplines at four universities. He is an emeritus professor at the University of California, Berkeley and a former editor of Rolling Stone. His articles and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Vanity Fair, National Geographic, Scientific American, The Nation, The New Republic, The New York Review of Books, TheNew York Times Book Review, and many other publications. A contributor to CNN and National Public Radio, Ferris has made three prime-time PBS television specials: The Creation of the Universe, Life Beyond Earth, and Seeing in the Dark. He lives in San Francisco.

Biography

Timothy Ferris (born August 29, 1944) is a science writer and the best-selling author of twelve books, including The Science of Liberty (2010) and Coming of Age in the Milky Way (1988), for which he was awarded the American Institute of Physics Prize and a nomination for the Pulitzer Prize. He also wrote The Whole Shebang: A State-of-the-Universe(s) Report (1997), a popular science book on the study of the universe.

Ferris is a native of Miami, Florida, and a graduate of Coral Gables High School. He attended Northwestern University, graduating in 1966, and studied for one year at the Northwestern University Law School before joining United Press International as a reporter, working in New York City.

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    1. Hometown:
      San Francisco, California
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 29, 1944
    2. Place of Birth:
      Miami, Florida
    1. Education:
      B.S., Northwestern University, 1966
    2. Website:

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Science & Liberty 1

Chapter 2 Science & Liberalism 16

Chapter 3 The Rise of Science 35

Chapter 4 The Science of Enlightenment 57

Chapter 5 American Independence 89

Chapter 6 The Terror 109

Chapter 7 Power 128

Chapter 8 Progress 149

Chapter 9 The Science of Wealth 168

Chapter 10 Totalitarian Antiscience 191

Chapter 11 Academic Antiscience 236

Chapter 12 One World 261

Acknowledgments 293

Notes 295

Index 355

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 14 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 14 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 10, 2010

    THE SCIENCE OF LIBERTY IS OUTSTANDING

    Just finished reading a book I would like to recommend. It is by Timothy Ferris called "The Science of Liberty". It talks about the rise of liberal democracy as a result of the enlightenment, the product of scientific thought or methodology. Timothy Ferris is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He is emeritus professor at University of California, Berkeley and former editor of Rolling Stone. He argues that "just as the scientific revolution rescued billions from poverty, fear, hunger, and disease, the Enlightenment values it inspired has swelled the number of persons living in free and democratic societies form less than 1% of the world population 4 centuries ago to more than 1/3 today." He researches the evolution and the linkage of liberal democracies and scientific development. The history itself is interesting and gives one pause to think. He in the last chapters goes into the dangers of "Totalitarian Anti science" and "Academic Anti science". This he shows as a threat to further research and political freedom. Examples include the Nazi time when academics in Germany embraced Hitler. It also shows examples in Soviet Russia when Lysenko held sway and retarded Russian biology for decades. Now the threat of religious inspired totalitarianism in the form of the religious right in the U.S. and Islamists in the middle east. This will go on the recommended read list.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    New Ferris book excellent and thought provoking

    Tim Ferris is up to his usual excellent standards in this new book
    where he examines the relationship between liberty and science.
    Ferris shows how the scientific spirit, the willingness to experiment,
    is reflected by and related to the best of our liberal democracies.
    He is excellent at pointing out that democracies thrive with strong
    science and that science is at it's best with democracies!
    This a superb book! Enjoy!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted April 12, 2010

    Science and the Enlightenment

    If, as the author proclaims, the Enlightenment was inspired by scientific progress, perhaps one could believe that philosophy was meanlngless and natural philosophy, that is, science, was all. This dubious theory is at the heart of Ferris's book, and one should be allowed to question such a materialistic suggestion. The core of the Enlightenment was much more complicated, and less dependent upon science than upon the questioning of the dusty reckonings of scholaticism and church dogma. What does it matter if Thomas Jefferson kept a record of the day's temperature? Rubbish. The enlightenment was a revolution of thinking, of mentality, not of thermometer temperatures?
    His book contributes only to the hardening of the view that without Newton the Enlightenment would not have taken place. In fact, Newton was only a part of the whole.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    Good read

    Had to read this for a history class and it is a pretty good read. It is a little hard to follow the authors thought process sometimes, but you eventually get use to it. It does broaden your horizons and makes you think.

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