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The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition in Philosophical, Religious, and Institutional Context, Prehistory to A.D. 1450 [Paperback]

by David C. Lindberg
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1, 2008 0226482057 978-0226482057 2
When it was first published in 1992, The Beginnings of Western Science was lauded as the first successful attempt ever to present a unified account of both ancient and medieval science in a single volume. Chronicling the development of scientific ideas, practices, and institutions from pre-Socratic Greek philosophy to late-Medieval scholasticism, David C. Lindberg surveyed all the most important themes in the history of science, including developments in cosmology, astronomy, mechanics, optics, alchemy, natural history, and medicine. In addition, he offered an illuminating account of the transmission of Greek science to medieval Islam and subsequently to medieval Europe.
            The Beginnings of Western Science was, and remains, a landmark in the history of science, shaping the way students and scholars understand these critically formative periods of scientific development. It reemerges here in a second edition that includes revisions on nearly every page, as well as several sections that have been completely rewritten. For example, the section on Islamic science has been thoroughly retooled to reveal the magnitude and sophistication of medieval Muslim scientific achievement. And the book now reflects a sharper awareness of the importance of Mesopotamian science for the development of Greek astronomy. In all, the second edition of The Beginnings of Western Science captures the current state of our understanding of more than two millennia of science and promises to continue to inspire both students and general readers.

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Editorial Reviews


"The value of Lindberg's book as an introductory text for students is clear, but it will also serve as an excellent resource for non-specialists, particularly those teaching comprehensive survey courses. . . . [The book] offers a concise, highly accessible introduction to the essential elements of western knowledge about the natural world that will help guide instructors in developing curricula. . . . The possibilities presented to enrich and enliven a general history course abound.. . . . This second edition of  The Beginnings of Western Science will remain a fundamental and reliable resource for many years to come."
(Angela Smith H-Net Review)

"This is a fine book, the culmination of a century of distinguished research on premodern European science. And it tells an important story that . . . needs to be read not only by undergraduates but by professional historians and anyone seeking to understand the origins of modern science."
(F. Jamil Ragep Isis)

About the Author

David C. Lindberg is the Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and past-president of the History of Science Society. He is the author or editor of many books, including, with coeditor Ronald L. Numbers, When Science and Christianity Meet, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: University Of Chicago Press; 2 edition (April 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226482057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226482057
  • Product Dimensions: 8.9 x 6 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
21 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Survey January 31, 2009
This is a first rate survey of Western science from the Classical period to the eve of the Scientific Revolution. Arranged chronologically, Lindberg summarizes an immense amount of scholarly literature in a very well written text. Lindberg makes a consistent and successful effort to avoid anachronistically looking back at developments of the point of view the emergence of modern science. History of science is presented here with a strong effort to situate it in the context of contemporary intellectual and general history. Lindberg deals also with some historiographic issues related to prior interpretations of history of science. This is all quite difficult to do in a survey book and Lindberg carries this off very, very well. Each chronological period has a discussion of major developments and enough general history to make the context intelligible. Topics of greatest significance, such as Aristotle's system or Medieval physics, get excellent coverage. Some persistent themes are the importance of the Aristotelian system, the interaction between Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, the complex interaction between the Classical heritage and Christianity, the particular importance of the Islamic world as the heir and transmitter of Classical knowledge, and the importance of mathematical concepts. Lindberg does very well as showing the achievements of Classical and Medieval science while discussing why its underlying assumptions were different from the modern science that emerges in the 17th century. The footnotes and bibliography are excellent and constructed with an eye to providing a good guide into the literature for interested readers. This book is a real nice combination of informed scholarship and pedagogy.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
David Lindberg has without doubt successfully accomplished what he endeavored to do: write an excellent survey of the history of science in the ancient world and the Middle Ages. In fact, his was the only book I could find out there that covered this topic well -- it is a small corner of an esoteric field, to be sure, but an immensely interesting one nonetheless!

Lindberg's book is beautiful in its writing, far-reaching in its expanse, and cohesive in its coverage of the themes of the history of science. He writes in a manner that is scholarly yet friendly, even casual at times. His brush is a broad one the paints the big picture of how the ancient thinkers (the Greeks in particular, and to a lesser extent the Babylonians and the Romans) and the medieval philosophers -- both Christian and Muslim -- viewed the natural world around them. Lindberg does everyone justice, insisting time and again -- as he should -- that "science" thousands of years ago should not be compared to what we think of as "science" today, if only because the ancient and medieval thinkers asked questions about their world that were so fundamentally different from the ones we ask about ours. The book particularly shines when discussing Aristotle, the Muslim scholars and the Scholastics, true high points in the book. Lindberg successfully connects and relates the overarching themes in the history of science, making the book an immensely interesting and comprehensible work.

Though in painting with broad strokes Lindberg paints a fantastic big picture, in doing so he sacrifices detail. For example, the book, except for a few notable instances, is rather devoid of details about individual thinkers, and the reader learns little about their lives or the world in which they lived.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Part of the new understanding of the Middle Ages August 2, 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is one of several books that serve as a corrective to the popular myth that the fall of Rome was followed by the "Dark Ages." In this book, the development of modern science is traced from pre-history through the classical period (Greece and Rome) and afterward. Discoveries and the transmission of learning after the fall of Rome in Islamic lands and in the West is covered in readable detail.

Unlike similar books, the author does not wish to address why science withered away in Islam, instead wanting to end that section on a positive note (something to the effect that we should instead be amazed at how long it lasted). It is also rather more detailed tour on the thought and discoveries of the "ancients".

For anyone who has been steeped in the mythology that the history of scientific progress was Greece/Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, this book (and/or the others listed below) should be required reading. That would cover mostly anyone educated in our colleges and high schools in the last fifty years.

Other books in this vein worth reading: The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts (Cambridge Studies in the History of Science).
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate - coherent and well focused - 5 Stars March 24, 2011
This is a very good book. While the book is a survey covering about 2000 years of science, I did not feel that I was getting only a brief glimpse of the story. Rather, I found the presentation to be very coherent and well focused. It covers not only Western Science of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but also much earlier Greek Science and how this shaped later Western Science. It covers the ideas concerning the cosmos, atoms, nature, mathematics, kinematics and medicine. This coverage is much more than just a description of the science mentioned above, but it also stresses how earlier scientific endeavors influenced that which followed. The book devotes a considerable amount of space to Islamic science, not only in the sense that preserved and commented on the earlier Greek science, but also covers the original contributions that were made.

I particularly liked the discussion of how the early Greek ideas of the cosmos evolved into the later ideas of the Renaissance and how the ideas of matter also evolved. There is also a nice discussion of the Astrolabe, including expanded drawings of its parts. The reader should be reminded, however, that the book only covers science up to about 1450, so there is no detailed discussion of the work of Copernicus, Gallelo or Newton, although all three are mentioned.

The writing is generally clear and written in a very accessible style - one that is quite suitable for a general reader as well as a specialist. The book contains 6 maps and over 100 drawings.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Foundations of Western Intellectual History
In a comprehensive, coherent, and clearly-written history, Lindberg argues that the science of the 16th and 17th centuries was not a break from the classical and medieval past. Read more
Published 25 days ago by Mark S
3.0 out of 5 stars No page numbers
The content is fairly straightforward. I was using this as a supplementary for a class on the history of medieval science. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Marissa
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Scholarly
The book may be too much for some but it is an accurate and scholarly review of the history of western science.
Published 2 months ago by tginoc
3.0 out of 5 stars Meh
Honestly didn't read much of it, but the bits I did were mildly engaging and at times fascinating. Less dry than your average history text.
Published 8 months ago by Daniel Wooten
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for history of science aficionados
This book is a very complete look at the development of western science. It is detailed enough that it is considered a textbook and as such, it fulfilled its goal. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Steve G
5.0 out of 5 stars Pretty straight forward
The material is presented pretty forward. There are sub-chapters within chapter, which at least in my case, makes it a much more tolerable read. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Smiles
4.0 out of 5 stars A must-read for history of science aficionados
This book is a very complete look at the development of western science. It is detailed enough that it is considered a textbook and as such, it fulfilled its goal. Read more
Published 21 months ago by Steve G
5.0 out of 5 stars enjoyable to read, useful generalizations and fascinating details
This book becomes essential for students, and anyone interested, to get a picture of the development of scientific thinking in Europe. Read more
Published on August 2, 2010 by Francesc
4.0 out of 5 stars Not too difficult or boring...
So far (I'm only half-way through) this book is very clear and direct. It covers the BEGINNINGS of science, so don't expect any discussion of Newton or anything recent. Read more
Published on September 22, 2009 by E. Cozart
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