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The Genesis of Science: The Story of Greek Imagination
     

The Genesis of Science: The Story of Greek Imagination

by Stephen Bertman
 

Historians often look to ancient Greece as the wellspring of Western civilization. Perhaps the most ingenious achievement of the Hellenic mind was the early development of the sciences. What was it about the Greeks, as opposed to the far older civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, that gave rise to the uniquely Western, scientific mindset? Bertman

Overview

Historians often look to ancient Greece as the wellspring of Western civilization. Perhaps the most ingenious achievement of the Hellenic mind was the early development of the sciences. What was it about the Greeks, as opposed to the far older civilizations of Egypt, Mesopotamia, India, and China, that gave rise to the uniquely Western, scientific mindset? Bertman explores this intriguing question in this authoritative yet accessible and eloquently told story about the origins of science. Going beyond individual Greek discoveries in the various branches of science, he emphasizes why these early investigators were able to achieve what they did. Among the exceptional characteristics of Greek culture that created the seedbed for early science were:

• the Greek emphasis on rationalism—a conviction that human reason could successfully unravel the mysteries of nature and make sense of the cosmos

• an early form of humanism—a pride and confidence in human potential despite the frailty and brief tenure of individual lives

• the drive to excel in every arena from the battlefield to the Olympic games and arts competitions
• an insatiable curiosity that sought understanding of both human nature and the world

• a fierce love of freedom and individualism that promoted freedom of thought—the prelude to science.

Focusing on ten different branches of science, the author shows why the Greeks gravitated to each specialty and explains the fascinating theories they developed, the brilliant experiments they performed, and the practical applications of their discoveries. He concludes by recounting how these early insights and achievements—transmitted over the course of two thousand years—have shaped the scientific attitude that is the hallmark of today’s world. This lively narrative captures the Greek genius and demonstrates the indelible influence of their discoveries on modern science and technology.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Classicist Bertman (Doorway Through Time) examines the scientific legacy of ancient civilizations with an emphasis on Greece. Bertman catalogues an impressive set of Greek scientific firsts, and he does so by straightforwardly organizing the science into optics, acoustics, mechanics, biology, chemistry, astronomy, medicine, meteorology, psychology, and geography. There are many familiar names (Euclid, Pythagoras, Aristotle), with familiar stories attached; Archimedes’ “Eureka” moment is particularly well told. There are unfamiliar names, too: alchemist Maria the Jewess, who invented “perhaps the first still in history”; mapmaker Anaximander; and Eratosthenes, who around 200 B.C.E. calculated with surprising accuracy the polar circumference of the earth. Bertman explains the cultural reasons for the Greeks’ remarkable scientific accomplishments in a fairly cursory fashion as resting on their belief in an ordered universe, whose rules “can be discovered by the human mind,” and a “compulsion to see and understand....” He adds a deep belief in rationalism, humanism, and a desire to excel at all things as additional driving forces. Bertman is an unabashed admirer of the ancient Greeks, and his depiction of their scientific accomplishments gives readers a reason to share his admiration. Illus. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Modern science isn't just built on gifts from the Greeks, it is Greek to the core. In The Genesis of Science, Stephen Bertman demonstrates the core principle by breathing life into the ancient Greeks and skillfully tracing their contribution to a wide variety of disciplines, which, though altered, retain the Greek ideal and all that came with it. Moreover, Bertman does so with a humanistic, visually enhanced flair that makes the story accessible to a wide audience in an age of fear, distrust, and misunderstanding of science's goals and methods. We need more books like this one."
—Anthony F. Aveni, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy,
Anthropology, and Native American Studies, Colgate University
Library Journal
Bertman (classics, emeritus, Univ. of Windsor) asks, "Who invented science?" and answers, "The Greeks." He then tours the ancient Greeks' contributions to various branches of science, including astronomy, biology, chemistry, and more. He also touches on the scientific achievements of non-Western cultures, such as those of the Maya and the ancient Chinese. Bertman's knowledge of the classics and interest in Greek science is apparent. His book is easy to read and covers much ground, but those well versed in its topic will find little that is new—it primarily presents previous scholarship for a popular audience. Also, the unsuspecting reader must beware reading too much into Bertman's occasional anachronisms. He periodically compares Greek achievements to those of modern science and often refers to Greek "scientists," a term not coined until the 19th century, to denote a role that did not exist until recently. Readers who find this book interesting should explore its recommended readings, especially David C. Lindberg's The Beginnings of Western Science. Verdict Recommended for the general reader with a burgeoning interest in the origins of Western science.—Jonathan Bodnar, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib. & Information Ctr., Atlanta

(c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781616142179
Publisher:
Prometheus Books
Publication date:
12/15/2010
Pages:
300
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.00(d)

What People are Saying About This

Paul T. Keyser
An eager and passionate, stimulating and challenging tale of how in ancient Greece the mythic imagination gave way to the restless curiosity and imaginative power of science, this book is an extended argument that the scientific outlook, now so widespread, was pervasive in ancient Greek thought. (Paul T. Keyser, PhD, IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, co-editor The Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists)
Georgia L. Irby-Massie
In The Genesis of Science: The Story of the Greek Imagination, Stephen Bertman dares to ask two bold questions: Who invented science? and: Why them (the Greeks)? He discovers that his question is his answer: because the Greeks dared to ask that same bold question: Why? Bertman's narrative is a sweeping and energetic tale of the history of science. Drawing authentic and compelling connections between ancient and modern science, he shows with sensitivity and affection, and without any trace of pedantry, how Greek science, after two and a half millennia, continues to inspire, to inform, and even to be our science of the twenty-first century. (Georgia L. Irby-Massie, associate professor of classics, The College of William and Mary, co-editor, The Encyclopedia of Ancient Natural Scientists)
Anthony F. Aveni
Modern science isn't just built on gifts from the Greeks, it is Greek to the core. In The Genesis of Science, Stephen Bertman demonstrates this core principle by breathing life into the ancient Greeks and skillfully tracing their contribution to a wide variety of disciplines, which, though altered, retain the Greek ideal and all that came with it. Moreover, Bertman does so with a humanistic, visually enhanced flair that makes the story accessible to a wide audience in an age of fear, distrust, and misunderstanding of science's goals and methods. We need more books like this one. (Anthony F. Aveni, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor of Astronomy, Anthropology, and Native American Studies, Colgate University)

Meet the Author

Stephen Bertman, PhD, professor emeritus of classics at Canada’s University of Windsor, is the author of seven books, including Doorways through Time (featured by the Natural Science Book Club), The Eight Pillars of Greek Wisdom, Handbook to Life in Ancient Mesopotamia, and Erotic Love Poems of Greece and Rome.

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