Science: A Four Thousand Year History

Science: A Four Thousand Year History

by Patricia Fara
     
 

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In Science, Patricia Fara rewrites science's past to provide new ways of understanding and questioning our modern technological society. Sweeping through the centuries from ancient Babylon right up to the latest hi-tech experiments in genetics and particle physics, Fara's book also ranges internationally, challenging notions of European superiority by emphasizing

Overview

In Science, Patricia Fara rewrites science's past to provide new ways of understanding and questioning our modern technological society. Sweeping through the centuries from ancient Babylon right up to the latest hi-tech experiments in genetics and particle physics, Fara's book also ranges internationally, challenging notions of European superiority by emphasizing the importance of scientific projects based around the world, including revealing discussions of China and the Islamic Empire alongside the more familiar stories about Copernicus's sun-centered astronomy, Newton's gravity, and Darwin's theory of evolution.

We see for instance how Muslim leaders encouraged science by building massive libraries, hospitals, and astronomical observatories and we rediscover the significance of medieval Europe—long overlooked—where, surprisingly, religious institutions ensured science's survival, as the learning preserved in monasteries was subsequently developed in new and unique institutions: universities. Instead of focussing on esoteric experiments and abstract theories, she explains how science belongs to the practical world of war, politics, and business. And rather than glorifying scientists as idealized heroes, she tells true stories about real people—men (and some women) who needed to earn their living, who made mistakes, and who trampled down their rivals.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

By showing how science "has been built up from knowledge and skills developed in other parts of the world" and how it "belongs to the world of war, politics, and business," Fara's (history and philosophy of science, Cambridge Univ.; Newton: The Making of a Genius) well-written book counteracts overly Eurocentric accounts that portray science history as the successive triumph of one scientific genius, experiment, or theory over another. A true introduction, it synthesizes an impressive amount of scholarship without overwhelming the reader with the usual scholarly apparatus. While there are few footnotes in the text, there is a "Special Sources" section citing primarily recent scholarly works that could easily serve as a gateway to a more in-depth investigation. Unfortunately, the scope of the book (4000 years in about 400 pages) leaves little room to explore in detail the movement of specific scientific ideas or practices across cultures or across time. Nonetheless, the book is unique for including non-Western sources, something that few books about the history of science for the nonspecialist do. Recommended for public and academic libraries, for the undergraduate reader. (Index not seen.)
—Jonathan Bodnar

Kirkus Reviews
Fara (History and Philosophy of Science/Univ. of Cambridge; Scientists Anonymous: Great Stories of Women in Science, 2007, etc.) aims to correct the romantic notion that science reflects the progress of noble heroes and selfless discoverers. Instead, writes the author, it is the work of ambitious men-yes, men-out for fame, glory and profit. Fara begins in the Middle East with the Babylonian priests who scanned the night skies for portents of the future, developing star maps, calendars and methods of calculation to be absorbed later by Greeks and Romans. The author covers all the familiar figures, from the pre-Socratic Greeks through Watson and Crick, but she is harsh on the legacies of many of them, except for the occasional woman. Thus Aristarchus, the Greek credited with a pre-Copernican belief that the earth revolved around the sun? He's not important, says Fara, because nobody believed him. Leonardo's sketch of a helicopter? Since he never actually built the machine, it doesn't count. The author describes Newton more in terms of his work in alchemy than his discoveries about the laws of motion, and she denigrates him for his power plays and slighting of others. Snobbery, selfishness and the quest for power characterized members of Britain's Royal Society, and their counterparts abroad. Fara fares better in her analysis of how Big Science became a boon to governments in the Manhattan Project and the space race, and why developing countries are so eager to join the nuclear club. She also looks at the current backlash against genetic engineering, and the effects of the Green Revolution in the developing world. She concludes that for all that science dominates modern life, it is everprovisional, awaiting the next discovery or corrective. Less of the warts-and-all style and more straightforward reporting would have made this account more palatable.
From the Publisher
"Very well-written and highly readable. The language is clear and the arguments are lucid. Frequent examples and anecdotes enliven dry, theoretical concepts. With the author's engaging style of writing, even those with topics that might not normally have captured one's interest become a pleasure to read."—American Scientist

"Fara's book marks an important direction in the discipline: a bona-fide historian of science writing an engaging book for the general reader."—Chemical Heritage

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199580279
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
04/05/2010
Pages:
512
Sales rank:
771,423
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 1.20(d)

Meet the Author

Patricia Fara lectures in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and is the Senior Tutor of Clare College. She is the author of numerous books, including Fatal Attraction: Magnetic Mysteries of the Enlightenment and Newton: The Making of Genius. Her writing has appeared in New Scientist, Nature, The Times, and New Statesman, and she writes a regular column for Endeavour.

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