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

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

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by Timothy Ferris
     
 

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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,

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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 Enlight-enment 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

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:
9780060781507
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/09/2010
Pages:
368
Product dimensions:
9.30(w) x 6.28(h) x 1.33(d)

What People are saying about this

A.C. Grayling
“Lucid and captivating. . . . Deeply important. . . . Ferris’s clear and educative account makes for an enjoyable read.”

Meet the Author

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, The New 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.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
San Francisco, California
Date of Birth:
August 29, 1944
Place of Birth:
Miami, Florida
Education:
B.S., Northwestern University, 1966
Website:
http://www.timothyferris.com

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The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Skeptical-DoDo More than 1 year ago
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.
Realmenreadbooks More than 1 year ago
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!
TimDonaldson More than 1 year ago
The central thesis of Ferris' book is that there is a positive feedback loop between liberty and science, which benefits the nations that support both; and, of course, a negative feedback loop between totalitarianism and anti-science, which undermines the nations built on them. The American experiment in liberty is scientific because it is just that, an experiment. Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg in 1863 famously described the Civil War as a painful empirical test of whether any nation, conceived in liberty, dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, can endure on the earth. But the experiment metaphor was not his invention. Thomas Paine- to whom we have built no statues because he was a religious iconoclast, but of whom it was said "he crushed the empires of Europe with a pamphlet"- had started speaking of America as an experiment in 1774. Madison, Hamilton, and Jay, in their Federalist Papers, used the word "experiment" 45 times- by comparison they used the word "democracy" only 10 times, and often in the context of states as "laboratories" of democracy. Washington and Jefferson also frequently referred to the "experiment" on occasions large and small. In fact, it is much more than coincidence that the Founding Fathers were almost all amateur scientists. Some, like Benjamin Franklin, were much more than amateurs. James Madison's first love was Newtonian physics and he said he designed the federal system based on the idea of the federal government as the sun at the center and the states in orbit around it. George Washington was an amateur scientist in agricultural methods- methods which the USSR and PRC could have used later when their "Marxist science" led to massive starvation by the millions. Even those Founding Fathers who we do not think of as scientists were- or wished they were, as when John Adams lamented that he wasted his early decades on the largely useless castles in the air of the ancient Greek philosophers instead of spending that time studying Newton and Galileo. To Ferris, who has taught 5 subjects at 4 universities and was once the Editor of the Rolling Stone Magazine, amongst other things- there is a clear line of the pro-science, pro-liberty, successful side of history. This includes capitalism and globalization, which have accomplished much and been almost entirely forces for good in the world. He says this as a San Francisco Democrat who strongly condemns the dropping of the a-bomb, and supports universal health care and climate change initiatives. He addresses most of the criticisms of capitalism as being the bankrupt mental leftovers of the Middle Ages, a period of over 1000 years, from the fall of Rome to the Enlightenment, in which Europe was poor and STAYED poor. There were only 2 medieval inventions of consequence, the waterwheel @ 800 and the windmill @1100. That's it. The average European had an income of something equivalent to about $180 a year (compared to the global average of $7000 a year now). Starvation was common. Life expectancy was 30 for men and 24 for women, because of childbirth. The economy was a zero-sum game. If someone did better, someone else much have done worse. Lending money was an excommunicatable sin, which is why only the Jews did it- and they were the original bogeymen bankers. In that world, their "leading lights" could say "Business is itself an evil" (St Augusitine) and "A man who is a merchant can seldom if ever please God" (St Jerome). As
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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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PBrant More than 1 year ago
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.