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A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks

30 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1560257486
ISBN-10: 1560257482
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this persuasive history, Conner aggressively pursues evidence of how, since the earliest civilizations, elite scientists have suppressed and excluded lower class innovators while learning from and using their discoveries, often without giving them credit. As Conner notes, many of the "Great Man" myths about people like Galileo and Columbus, once believed to have made their contributions to science out of their own genius, have been debunked, but even those persist in the popular imagination, and others have never been addressed. The pages are dense with information and quotes from both primary sources and modern revisionist historians, and Conner tries to cover too much in too little space, but he writes clearly and skillfully shows connections as he ranges across time periods and disciplines from medicine to art to astronomy. However, despite promising to highlight women's important role in the sciences, they are mostly absent, and the brief chapter on modern times mostly concerns itself with corruption in the pharmaceuticals and atomic weaponry industries. Nonetheless, this book is a valuable synthesis of previously spotty attempts to show science's reliance on the anonymous multitudes for many important advances.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Explicitly emulating Howard Zinn's enduringly popular A People's History of the United States (1979), Conner applies an anti-elitist point of view in his survey of science from prehistory to the present. Conner is not as occupied with scientific ideas and discoveries as he is with the sociology and historiography of science. He is keen to oppose the inculcation of admiration for the Great Men of Science--words he capitalizes in disparagement--but since science historians of socialist bent have preceded him in this iconoclastic project, Conner acknowledges that his work is something of a synthesis. That will be valuable for bringing specialist literature to general readers, who will imbibe Conner's contention that manual workers, tradesmen, and craftsmen, through a trial-and-error process, created the empirical basis for the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century. In Conner's collectivist framework, names associated with the experimental method, such as Francis Bacon and Robert Boyle, are like copyright pirates; and the notion of the individual genius-scientist is illusory. With a stout left-wing attitude, Conner's tome will instigate debate. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 568 pages
  • Publisher: Nation Books (November 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1560257482
  • ISBN-13: 978-1560257486
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.3 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #631,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in New Jersey, grew up in Tennessee, and went to college at Georgia Tech. I worked for Lockheed Aircraft, which in 1966 sent me to England for a year as a design engineer on the C-5A cargo plane. My time in England coincided with the escalation of the Vietnam War. When I returned from England to Georgia, I resigned from Lockheed in a public act of protest against its role as a war profiteer. As a result, I became unemployable as the FBI dogged my trail, warning prospective employers against hiring me. (This was confirmed years later when I got my FBI files via a Freedom Of Information Act request.) I got married while still in college and by 1968 had three children, all daughters. The marriage ended in 1970, whereupon I moved to Manhattan and have been a New Yorker ever since. In 1980 I met my soulmate, Marush; we have lived "happily ever after." Meanwhile, the three daughters have produced a total of six grandchildren. Job stability has not been my strong suit, but I did eventually settle down to choose a career path. In 1985 I decided I wanted to be a historian, so I got the requisite Ph.D. degree and went on to teach history and write books on historical subjects.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Paul LeBlanc on November 28, 2006
Format: Paperback
It seems that Cliff Conner's challenging interpretation has ruffled some feathers. The fact that he dares to think that there has been gender and racial and class bias impacting on the history of science immediately damns him in the eyes of some reviewers on this site.

One reviewer has been so upset that he felt compelled to reach for the most terrible label ever: "post-modernist." It seems to me that there is nothing of the sort in Cliff Conner's conceptions or vocabulary. He may be a small "d" democrat, even a good old-fashioned Marxist, but not one of those terrrible, terrible post-modernists (although they, too, happen to talk about the impact of bias on science).

To speak of such things is apparently reason for some folks to uncork their bottle of insults, and splash about unpleasant accusations. That's too bad, since it can easily be documented that social bias and elitism have had an impact among scientists as well as among intellectual historians. It's not such a controversial point.

Rather than getting bent out of shape over Conner's statement of the obvious, the reader should relax and follow the flow of this clearly written book. What Conner shows is rooted in the anthropologically sound understanding that science is a collective process of comprehending and changing the world around us. This is hardly to deny the fact that there have been outstanding and "craftsman-like" individuals who have sythesized the work of others to develop new insights and make exciting breakthroughs. (For every such genius, of course, there are a number of intellectual thieves -- some of whom fare badly in Conner's book -- but that it is another matter.
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36 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Michael Aristidou on November 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
I am not sure whether the author writes history or he is "cherry-picking" to justify his own ideology. The book is definitely BIASED and contains many things that inaccurate or incorrect.

I will focus basically on Chapter 3, entitled "What Greek Miracle?".

Regarding mathematics, of course the Greeks came into contact, were influenced, etc, by the Egyptians, Babylonians, etc, (as many ancient Greeks reported), but that's not the point. The point, which Conner deliberately or by ignorance is missing, is that the Greeks (first) saw the need to introduce the notion of PROOF (and rigor in general) in mathematics, perhaps due to the socio-political (and religious) dynamics of their time, and that's what we mean when we say that they founded contemporary mathematics. The Pythagorean Theorem was well known to the Babylonians, true, but the proof of it was NOT. The need to provide a rigorous argument for such property of a right-angle triangle begins with the Greeks, and not with the Babylonians, unless Conner has any evidence to the contrary which he does NOT.

The author also tends to identify Plato's insistence on geometry with Greek mathematics. Geometry was not ALL Greek mathematics. Even in Euclid's "Elements" we have several Chapters on Number Theory, but Conner conveniently doesn't mention that. Conner also downplays the practical mathematics that Archimedes engaged into, and completely omits the immense contributions of Diophantus in algebra and arithmetic, just so give weight to his silly argument that "geometry was for the elite, arithmetic was for the poor, therefore the Greeks and the rest of the scientist until today, who relied on Greeks, had one thing in mind: to distort history, and keep poor and non-whites down".
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21 of 26 people found the following review helpful By M. A. Krul on May 8, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Being of a generally socialist bent, I am very sympathetic to the project of "people's histories", ever since it was conceived by A.L. Morton's excellent A people's history of England, but that does not mean that we should be uncritical towards what is actually written. Not just Howard Zinn's prototype book (People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present) in the modern series should be evaluated with care, but this goes as well for other books in this series, including this one, the "People's History of Science" by Clifford Conner.

Conner's thesis is that although the history of science has often been portrayed in the usual "Great Men" style as the work of a privileged few brilliant men (and yes, almost only men) seeing further than anyone elses and inventing wondrous new sciences and technologies, in reality most of established academia during the ages was of no value whatever, and real scientific progress resulted through the experiments and practice of artisans, painters, miners, etc., not through the academic thinking of the learned.
Tracing a chronology of technological development, Conner gives a convincing if not entirely open-and-shut case for this thesis, in particular when it comes to demonstrating the great advances in science made by the lowly and unacademic during the ancient periods as well as the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.
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