"Did Galileo really study gravity by dropping objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as many of us learned in school? According to science historian [Alberto A.] Martínez, a rich variety of tall tales, myths, and fictitious accounts have congealed around famous scientists 'like plaster, paint, and acrylic gloss.' In a laudable effort to separate the fragments of truth from the hype surrounding a number of eureka moments in the history of science, Martínez skillfully reveals how even the best biographers and writers make plausible but incorrect connections between historical events and often rely on their imagination instead of the facts. VERDICT: Martínez’s more truthful reconstructions of these mythlike stories about Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and other scientists are only a starting point for a fascinating analysis of the historical and social factors that created these legends and keep them alive. This book should be required reading for all college science majors. The author’s meticulous and engaging use of historical evidence will also appeal to history of science enthusiasts."
“Combines the best qualities of popular science writing with the thorough documentation that one would expect from a professional historian. Highly recommended.”
“Martínez does four valuable things in this book: he refutes several well-established myths and misunderstandings in the history of science, he finds a common thread to many of the older myths in a hidden history of Pythagoreanism, he shows how to detect such mistakes in the work of others, and how to avoid them in one’s own work. It is at once a work of solid scholarship and an education in how to do history of science and it can be read with pleasure and excitement by anyone who cares about the place of science in the modern world.”
—Jeremy Gray, The Open University
“Martinez has pointed his finger at interesting and often unexplored aspects of science history: Our urge to know leads us to interpolate facts and interpretations into history in a process of speculative invention. These interpolations get picked up, recycled, reinforced, and evolve until we cannot separate fact from fiction any more. Pythagoras is the patron saint of this process. It is more enjoyable to disentangle real history from these interpolations—and to understand why these interpolations were made in the first place—than to accept them and live with them. Myths, after all, are meaningful, and as meaningful can be explored.”
Alberto A. Martínez is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is author of Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein's Relativity and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent.