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Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths Hardcover – May 29, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


"narrates and debunks the myths prevalent among the public and among scientists ... To paraphrase a paleontological cliche 'absence of evidence (of fossils) is not evidence of absence (of the existence and slow evolution of animals through stages),' the fact that Einstein denies being an atheist did not mean that he was a 'believer' in God or in religion in the commonly understood sense of the words -- a point Martinez makes with skill and agility."
― New Straits Times

"Busting scientific myths ... fascinating and thought-provoking book."
"Myths are actually important because they serve a purpose... the reality is interesting too, and that's a real strong point of the book, and I really enjoyed it, I found out interesting things that I hadn't known before."
― Physics World, magazine and podcast

"entertaining reading and a serious inquiry ... intriguing ... almost any reader is likely to find something new. ... powerful food for thought for anyone who believes that historical scholarship is something more than telling engaging stories."
― Annals of Science

"Martínez shows how bald tales are embroidered or contextualized into stories that catch the imagination and become authoritative and unchallenged. ... where others had doubted whether Charles Augustin Coulomb accurately reported his demonstration that electrical forces obeyed an inverse-square law, Martínez has actually been able to repeat it: replications of long-past experiments are tricky, so that vindication is worth celebrating. ... Martínez provides a reliable, informal, and knockabout route into history of science."
― Isis    

"particularly authoritative and interesting in this new book's five essays on the myths surrounding Einstein. ... fascinating and thought provoking. ... he succeeds admirably in a deft manner with both a light touch and numerous insights."
― Physics in Perspective

"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."
—Library Journal

“Combines the best qualities of popular science writing with the thorough documentation that one would expect from a professional historian. Highly recommended.”
—Choice Magazine

“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

“Alberto Martínez has successfully completed a very difficult task. He has written a book concerning various myths about the history of science that will be very interesting to, and understood by, a generally educated reader. At the same time, his scholarship is so careful that the book will be of value to professional historians and philosophers of science. The episodes, which range from Galileo to Einstein, are fascinating and well chosen. I strongly recommend this book.”
—Allan Franklin, University of Colorado

“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.”


About the Author

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.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 344 pages
  • Publisher: University of Pittsburgh Press; 1 edition (May 29, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0822944073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822944072
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #440,184 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I'm originally from San Juan, Puerto Rico. I write about science and history, and I'm especially interested in neglected controversies and disagreements in the elements of physics and math. I've been a Research Fellow at The Smithsonian, M.I.T., Harvard, Boston University, and Caltech, and I'm a tenured professor at the University of Texas at Austin. My new books are about myths in science and math: The Cult of Pythagoras, and Science Secrets: The Truth About Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths.

Here's my website:
It includes articles, book overviews, interviews, and book reviews.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By R. Yu on January 14, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This book takes a new look at many centuries old myths surrounding legendary immortal events and accomplishments in the history of science.

What did Galileo actually do at the Leaning Tower of Pisa?
Was Galileo really a heretic?
Did Newton formulate his Theory of Gravity after getting plunked by an apple?
What were the Pythagorean Brotherhood actual contributions to the world of knowledge?
What did Darwin really do on Galapogos?
Did Ben Franklin discover electricity by flying a kite?
How did Coulomb discover that electricity was an inversely squared law with distance?
Why is J.J. Thomson credited as the discoverer of the electron, and did he really believe in the disasterous 'Plum Pudding' model?
Did Einstein even believe in God?, given his many famous quotes on the workings of 'the Almighty'.
Was Einsten's wife, the quite obedient wife that stood behind the famous husband?
Did the clock towers of Bern contribute to the Special Theory of Relativity? What if Einstein had lived in another city?
Was Einstein a genius because he thought like a child?
What is the truth behind Eugenics and equality (or lack thereof) of species and races?

The author presents much new documented evidence and for the most part, allows the reader to come to his own conclusion. It is highly entertaining and worth reading.

There is also a chapter called "The Myth about the Speed of Light", and although he does present a brief, relatively impressive lecture (for a historian) on time dilation and length contraction and the highly non-intuitive (nor sensical) relativistic velocity mathematics, there is no myth or point for debate here.

The book ends with a comprehensive set of notes to accompany all anecdotes and quotations.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. Poirier on September 9, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Most of us have heard at least some intriguing stories about famous scientists - stories that help illustrate how they came upon their great discoveries. Some such stories involve Galileo and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Isaac Newton and a falling apple, Benjamin Franklin and a kite, just to name a few. But are these stories literally true or are they exaggerations or simply pure fabrications? In this spellbinding book, the author, a professor of history, examines the veracity of such myths and legends about science/scientists that have propagated though the centuries and into modern times. Although the book has 14 chapters, each of whose title identifies a certain possible myth, the actual number of them that are discussed add up to 31, as indicated in the "List of Myths and Apparent Myths" (p. vii).

The author's approach is to explore hard evidence usually in the form of reliable original sources/documents that date as close as possible to the events in question. He also discusses some possible reasons why such myths are created, embellished and propagated over time, and how careful historians must be in separating fact from pure fiction before recounting what seems to have really happened.

The prose is very clear, friendly, lively and quite engaging. This book should appeal the most to science and history buffs - especially those with a penchant for the history of science.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Rebecca Stowe on September 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
So I'm not much of a scientist--I can barely remember the basics of what I learned in high school. Initially I thought this book might be a bit tough to follow, but I was so pleasantly surprised! The author does a great job of drawing the reader into the myths we learn growing up by teaching the real stories and history behind those myths. And in the process, you actually learn something new and interesting. The tone is fun and energetic, which makes it easy to follow even when complex scientific ideas are discussed. Would be a cool gift for an engineer, or teacher of science or math, or anyone who loves history and science. Great find!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Lauren Thomas on February 24, 2013
Format: Hardcover
This book is a delightful read for any mathematician or scientist, but especially so for those of us who will never try to become either. Martinez traces fascinating developments in the history of science in a context we can all internalize and enjoy.

"Science Secrets" explores in a fun and engaging way some very important questions I used to (wrongly) think were sufficiently answered, or was reluctant to ask for fear I'd get lost in the answer. Did Einstein believe in God? What made Darwin think about evolution in the way that he did? How could a supposedly mythical stone pass from a king's mere touch to a dank shed in Paris, and then from a lab in Delaware to finally transform a struggling Scottish writer into a multi-billionaire?

Martinez makes use of original diagrams, helpful pictures and figures, and easy-to-read tables. He explains equations and concepts in a logical way that is easy to follow, especially the problems that led Einstein to explore relativity. Most importantly, he helps us understand not only the truth, but the value in our very interest and in our questions. By revealing the real, arduous, and complicated process of scientific discovery from the overly simplified "who-gets-credit" textbook model we're all used to, Martinez takes us on a treasure hunt to uncover the truth. Upon closing the back cover, I not only knew a lot more about science in general, but also how important it is to understand why we love these stories. Very well written and highly recommended.
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