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On Giants' Shoulders: Great Scientists and Their Discoveries From Archimedes to DNA 1st Edition

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0471357322
ISBN-10: 0471357324
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

So many of us are blessed--or at least affected--by the fruits of science, yet how many of us really understand how we got them? Scientific creativity, like all other kinds, is a product of its times, but we can learn much from looking at the lives of its greatest practitioners; as a sizable side benefit, these lives are often tremendously entertaining. Author and BBC radio host Melvyn Bragg understands this well, and invited many of the great modern interpreters of science to discuss the lives and work of 12 greats, from Archimedes to Watson and Crick, and published the cream in On Giants' Shoulders. These are no dry transcripts, though; Bragg has a genius for selecting the most intriguing quotes and selections from both his guests and his subjects and weaving them into his own engrossing narrative. His many novels have tightened up his prose so well that he can make even a discussion of the genesis of relativity a page-turner. He couldn't have invented better material, either: Newton's notorious snobbery, Darwin's almost-naive sincerity, and Lavoisier's turbulent life and untimely death make for compelling stories indeed (one almost wonders how they had time to change the world). His guests, including luminaries such as Lewis Wolpert, Richard Dawkins, Oliver Sacks, and Roger Penrose, consistently cut to the heart of their subjects' importance and tie it all up neatly in the last chapter, "Where Are We Now?" An important question, of course, and one that can be better answered from On Giants' Shoulders. --Rob Lightner

From Kirkus Reviews

A mixed bag of essays on 12 great scientists, derived from a series of radio shows hosted by the author. Bragg (The Sword and the Miracle, 1997, etc.), host of the British program Start the Week, combines a lot of direct dialogue from his radio series with background material and chronologies of the lives of his esteemed scientists. The book assembles its list of greats in chronological order, beginning with Archimedes and ending with Francis Crick and James Watson, the researchers who uncovered the double-helix structure of DNA. Each essay begins with a few of the author's thoughts, followed in short order by sound bites from the guests on his showthemselves leading contemporary scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Paul Davies, and Roger Penrose. Their insights range from the philosophical (if Einstein had not lived, would someone else have discovered relativity?) to the apocryphal (Archimedes shouting ``Eureka!'' and jumping from the bath). At times in the expository material, Bragg likes to dramatize, pointing out for example that `` . . . if you get [your hypothesis] wrong, the fate of intellectuals in China is pretty gruesome. Lots of castration, lots of people being killed. . . .'' One guest recounts Newton performing some vision experiments by sticking things into his own eye. While describing the driven nature of Marie Curie, Bragg also points out the deep love she had for her husband. After Pierre Curie was run over by a horse-drawn carriage, a devastated Marie wrote that ``he is gone for ever, leaving me nothing but desolation and despair.'' And Einstein, according to one of the radio show's guests, deliberately played upon his image as an eccentric scientist. In the end, Bragg and his guests examine, with diametrically opposing viewpoints, whether all the fundamental discoveries in science have already happened. A series of meandering discussions of great scientists that is two parts Charlie Rose to one part Bill Maher. (12 photos, not seen) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471357324
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471357322
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.2 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,809 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 20, 1999
Format: Hardcover
On Giants' Shoulders is a tribute to twelve scientists who, in the last two thousand five hundred years, changed the world both as we perceive it and as we live in it. Their minds, their lives, their struggles, their colleagues and rivals are explored and unravelled by some of today's leading scientists. Taken together, their stories and discoveries constitute a guide to the history of science.
A bestseller in England, this book combines engaging portraits of these figures with accessible discussions of their most important discoveries. Those profiled are Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, Faraday, Darwin, Poincaré, Freud, Curie, Einstein, Francis Crick and James Watson. Their stories are enhanced by insights provided by interviews with some of today's leading scientists, including Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, John Gribbin, Sir Roger Penrose, Sir Martin Rees and Oliver Sacks.
Based on interviews broadcast over British radio, this book differs from the radio series in the ampler amount of material contained, as it was possible to include more material from the original transcripts, which had been mercilessly pruned for the thirty-minute radio programmes.
Melvyn Bragg is an acclaimed journalist and the host of the popular BBC Radio 4 programme Start the Week. He is also the author of seventeen novels and five works of non-fiction, including biographies of Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.
Reviewed by Azlan Adnan. Formerly Business Development Manager with KPMG, Azlan is currently Managing Partner of Azlan & Koh Knowledge and Professional Management Group, an education and management consulting practice based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. He holds a Master's degree in International Business and Management.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 20, 2003
Format: Paperback
This book is a collection of write-ups of BBC radio show programs about the heroes of British scientists. Each chapter considers a prominent scientist of the past, such as Archimedes, and then presents a synopsis of interviews and discussions with modern-day British academic scientists about the featured scientist of the past. Through the interviews, we gain an understanding of the opinions of the modern-day scientists concerning their academic heroes, mixed in with some of the facts concerning their lives and discoveries. The book is thick with opinions and philosophy compared to the amount of factual information it contains about the featured scientists. If you are interested in what modern British scientists have to say about some famous scientists of the past, then this book is for you. But if you're looking for a book where you can learn something about the famous scientists themselves or a summary of their discoveries, you should look elsewhere.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Anita L Ondrusek on June 15, 2000
Format: Hardcover
In a search for science biographies to add to our college's science library collection, I first purchased On Giants' Shoulders based upon a favorable review from Choice (Jan. 2000) that characterized the book as ". . . a well-written volume that can be understood by anyone." Science biographies can be very technical or very dry and, consequently, not for the non-specialist. Also, scholarly biographies that cover a collection of scientists usually follow a theme (such as women in science or great minds in biology), so I was taken with the idea of a chronology of scientific discoveries through a biographical approach. Since its arrival in the library, I have read the book twice. Its appeal lies in its conversational style (the text is partly based on radio interviews with famous scientists) and recurrent themes addressed from many different points of view - a technique reminiscent of the book The Ghost in the Atom (Cambridge University Press, 1986). One reviewer refers to the book's style as "gossip" and likens the presentation of events to a soap opera. Why not? Science is a world full of intrigue and scientists should be portrayed as having a human side as well as an intellectual side. The book is a wonderful way to introduce young people to the realm of science, and I have ordered personal copies for children of my friends and relatives.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Azlan Adnan on August 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
On Giants' Shoulders is a tribute to twelve scientists who, in the last two thousand five hundred years, changed the world both as we perceive it and as we live in it. Their minds, their lives, their struggles, their colleagues and rivals are explored and unravelled by some of today's leading scientists. Taken together, their stories and discoveries constitute a guide to the history of science.
A bestseller in England, this book combines engaging portraits of these figures with accessible discussions of their most important discoveries. Those profiled are Archimedes, Galileo, Newton, Lavoisier, Faraday, Darwin, Poincaré, Freud, Curie, Einstein, Francis Crick and James Watson. Their stories are enhanced by insights provided by interviews with some of today's leading scientists, including Paul Davies, Richard Dawkins, Stephen Jay Gould, John Gribbin, Sir Roger Penrose, Sir Martin Rees and Oliver Sacks.
Based on interviews broadcast over British radio, this book differs from the radio series in the ampler amount of material contained, as it was possible to include more material from the original transcripts, which had been mercilessly pruned for the thirty-minute radio programmes.
Melvyn Bragg is an acclaimed journalist and the host of the popular BBC Radio 4 programme Start the Week. He is also the author of seventeen novels and five works of non-fiction, including biographies of Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.
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