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Serendipity: Accidental Discoveries in Science [Paperback]

by Royston M. Roberts
4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 28, 1989 0471602035 978-0471602033 1
Many of the things discovered by accident are important in our everyday lives: Teflon, Velcro, nylon, x-rays, penicillin, safety glass, sugar substitutes, and polyethylene and other plastics. And we owe a debt to accident for some of our deepest scientific knowledge, including Newton's theory of gravitation, the Big Bang theory of Creation, and the discovery of DNA. Even the Rosetta Stone, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and the ruins of Pompeii came to light through chance. This book tells the fascinating stories of these and other discoveries and reveals how the inquisitive human mind turns accident into discovery. Written for the layman, yet scientifically accurate, this illuminating collection of anecdotes portrays invention and discovery as quintessentially human acts, due in part to curiosity, perserverance, and luck.

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This book is a collection of anecdotal "re caps" of the accidental discoveries that led to revolutionary scientific develop ment, including Edward Jenner's creation of the smallpox vaccine and Newton's gravity theory. Roberts tells us that Jen ner made the fortuitous connection be tween cowpox and smallpox by investi gating the claim of a milkmaid who avoided smallpox illness in the barnyard. Likewise, a shrewd Newton developed gravitational theory while observing the fall of the fa mous apple. It's clear that Roberts (chemis try, Univ. of Texas) feels most engaged and comfortable in the fields of chemistry and biology, for these sections are the largest and the most informative and concisely written. Elsewhere, the book suffers from a choppy and dry presentation. Recom mended for larger subject collections only.
-Lauren Bielski, New York
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (June 28, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471602035
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471602033
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #97,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tremendous April 2, 2002
An excellent book on the breakthroughs in science which have in some way been fuelled by chance. Inspiration came to Archimedes while sitting in the bath and to Isaac Newton under an apple tree, as we all know; but Roberts offers other less well-known yet fascinating tales of scientific discovery. I was intrigued to read that Bill Gates invented the left-handed mouse while "working on something else" - according to the Microsoft guru himself.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What have you seen lately? September 2, 2001
This is a fun book filled with vignettes about the discovery of something that we take for granted today. Serendipity is a gift for finding something good by accident, luck, or good fortune. Velcro®, penicillin, X-rays, dynamite, streaking, yes streaking, all have their roots in serendipity.
Archimedes was the first streaker. He calculated a way to measure the actual amount of gold used in a crown that the king had commissioned. King Hiero had provided the gold, but did not trust the goldsmith. Archimedes had already written mathematical formulas for finding the volume of a sphere and cylinder, but this was an irregular solid object. He was in the public baths in Syracuse when it dawned on him that the volume of an object would displace an equal volume of water. He ran from the bathhouse yelling, "Eureka, I've got it!" He simply forgot to put his clothes back on. The king was right to be suspicious, by the way.
Had it not been for his intelligence, sound judgement, and wisdom he would not be credited with the discovery. This is the theme throughout the book. "Accidents become discoveries because of the sagacity of the person who encountered the accident."
For students or trivia champions knowing the background, especially the accidental and humorous beginnings of something, makes remembering who discovered what and why easier. The bonus is that you get a few good chuckles too. Five stars for the discoverers.
Victoria Tarrani
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars So good I want to read it again right now! February 4, 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book is a really fun read for the science enthusiast. The author, a researcher in organic chemistry, emphasizes the role played by chance in scientific discovery, "serendipity" as he titles the book, and as such he argues for a particular philosophy of science. But serendipity does not imply pure dumb luck, as the author explains, but rather "sagacity" is an important ingredient; these great scientists and inventors had the perspicuity and imagination to recognize the importance of their chance discoveries--i.e. that muck at the bottom of the flask had some truly intriguing properties!

The book is structured as a series of articles on serendipitous discoveries from the time of Archimedes right up into the late twentieth century. Sometimes romance and scientific legend are employed, especially in the early half of the book, in order to entertain and support the thesis of serendipity, but I think little is lost by such speculation. What I found most interesting about the book is that organic and industrial chemistry are emphasized in the content, probably owing to the author's background, rather than the usual more glamorous popular science fare of physics and medicine. As a result, much of the information is new to the more jaded science reader. I personally had never read the story of Joseph Priestly, who discovered of oxygen, the basic reactions of photosynthesis, and so many other marvelous discoveries, until I read this book! I find it amazing that Priestly receives nary a mention in the standard college science course, while a media clown like Einstein is instantly recognizable to the general public, most of whom could not even describe to you what he supposedly "discovered".
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5.0 out of 5 stars Cool Book! August 23, 2013
By Marion
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A library copy was found on a public bus. Read part of it and returned it, deciding to get my own. This book shows how scientific discoveries are inspired (in-Spirit), as many elements must come together for an idea to materialize.
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