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The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors Hardcover – October 21, 2003


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 647 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; First U.S. Edition edition (October 21, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400060133
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400060139
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.6 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,164,737 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As expansive (and as massive) as a textbook, this remarkably readable popular history explores the development of modern science through the individual stories of philosophers and scientists both renowned and overlooked. Prolific popular science writer Gribbin wants to use the lives of these thinkers to show how they "reflect the society in which they lived, and... the way the work of one specific scientist followed from that of another." While he makes this case well, the real joy in the book can be found in the way Gribbin (who has made complex science understandable in such books as In Search of Schr"dinger's Cat) revels not just in the development of science but also in the human details of his subjects' lives. He writes, "Science is made from people, not people by science," and the book weaves together countless stories of the people who made science, from the arrogance and political maneuverings of Tycho Brahe in the 16th century to Benjamin Thompson's exploits during the American Revolution as a spy for the British and his later life as Count Rumford of Bavaria (in the realm of science, he studied convection and helped discredit the caloric theory of heat). Though the names and discoveries become more and more prolific as the book reaches the 19th century, Gribbin does an admirable job of organizing his narrative around coherent topics (e.g., "The Darwinian Revolution," "Atoms and Molecules," "The Realm of Life"), leaving the reader exhausted by the journey, but in awe of the personalities and the sheer scope of 500 years' worth of scientific discovery. Illus.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* This is the most ambitious effort yet by astrophysicist Gribbin, who has written numerous biographical and topic-specific works. Gribbin uses biography as a vehicle to traverse science's history from Copernicus to the principals of the quantum and relativity revolutions. Or were they revolutions? Readers will find the author arguing against the notion; he promotes an evolutionary view in the biographical vignettes, describing how the greats in science, at some stage, tussled with the authority of predecessors. Aristotle, Galen, and Ptolemy were impediments nudged, not shoved, aside. Gribbin notes the arguments that gave them apparent weight until lifted by a contradicting experiment or observation. And there was a remarkable number of colorful figures among the performers noted here, with Gribbin alighting upon the likes of Benjamin Thompson, the American Tory who became a Bavarian count, discovered truths about heat, and founded the laboratory that produced Michael Faraday, one of the most storied lives in science. Populated by such characters and replete with scientific clarity, Gribbin's work is the epitome of what a general-interest history of science should be. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

He has done a great service with this book.
Timothy Haugh
This book does a great job narrating the development of science through the modern times... Extremely easy to read, the author does a great job narrating.
Shahzad Patel
This book covers much more of course and builds on discoveries as time progresses.
amania

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

80 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Timothy Haugh TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
It is very difficult for me to dislike a book like this. I am a big fan of scientific histories and this is a very good one. Gribbin takes us through the development of Western science from its roots in the Renaissance through modern threads of research. His prose is very readable and well organized even as he takes us through the major topics of physics, chemistry and biology.
One of the things that makes his book so readable is that he focuses a lot of his energy on the lives and personalities of the great scientists. Though we get a grounding in the theories, we get more about science as a human pursuit which is often forgotten in our technologically-swamped age. It is a nice approach through which we not only get to hear about the ones everybody knows--Galileo, Newton, Darwin, Einstein, etc.--but a number of names with which even a science teacher like myself is less familiar.
My main problem with this book is that Gribbin's prejudices show through loud and clear. He is clearly not a supporter of Thomas Kuhn's ideas of scientific revolution which I think have a certain validity and usefulness though Gribbin is correct in that science would progress even without revolutions; however, it would not likely have progressed in the way that Gribbin himself outlines so well. Gribbin also clearly has some problems with the really famous scientists like Einstein and, in particular, Newton. I'm not quite clear why Gribbin is so anti-Newton but his assertions that everything discovered by Newton and Einstein would have eventually been discovered by other scientists, while likely true, dismisses the fact that these genius certainly accelerated our understanding.
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35 of 38 people found the following review helpful By David N. Reiss on March 6, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I do want to point out that this is a very good book. I did give it five stars after all. It is a great book for getting a good view of several scientists and their contributions to the sciences and engineering from the late renaissance period to modern times.
The topic our kind author, John Gribbin, is tackling is very large and no one book can hope to cover the entire topic. Even, as is the case here, in a book of almost 700 pages. Gribbin has chosen to focus on the interplay among the scientists, mainly when he wants to segway from one scientist to another, and the social implications of their discoveries... including much on the political realties of the time. Especially in the case of Galileo Galilei, where the political issues can be as important as his scientific discoveries.
I would say that the great weakness to this approach is that he focus's a lot of those who invented things, and less on those who developed new ways of thinking about the world. He claims to be doing the later, and does do a good job of it at times, but he appears to ignore the implications of a quote from Galileo he likes to use a lot: "science is written in the language of mathematics". Gribbin almost totally ignores the contributions the people he covers made to mathematics, and pure mathematicians have trouble even getting a mention from him. For example, in discussing Newton he could have discussed Gottfried Leibnitz a little, but instead just mentions that Newton and him argued about who discovered Calculus as leaves it at that.
The second great weakness of this book is there is no quick introduction to the best of the Greek and Roman philosophers who did a lot of science.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
This is undoubtedly John Gribbin's best book, and only a real nit picker could object to the fact that it doesn't cover every single scientist who ever lived. Where Gribbin is so good is in weaving the story of scientists'lives together to tell a gripping story of how science as a whole has developed from the time of Copernicus to the beginning of the 21st century. The chapter about Benjamin Thomson aka Lord Rumford is particularly good, and Gribbin delights in telling you about the weirdness of many of his subjects, including Henry Cavendish who was the richest man in England, and a great scientist, but only ate boiled mutton. Even if you don't care about the science, this is still grsat history.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Techie Reader on July 25, 2004
Format: Hardcover
As an engineer, this book explained the history of discovery of most of the topics that were brushed upon during my engineering undergraduate degree.

The author gives a detailed history of the key discoveries that scientists have made (including those not often recognized) and the key discoveries that were passed from scientist to scientist to allow them to stand upon each others shoulders to find the next discovery.

This is not a detailed science book, but it is an excellent history book that goes into enough technical detail for this engineer without getting into equations and derivations.

I recommend this book for those truly interested in the story of how the laws of science were discovered and how past scientists have helped us to get where we are today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Metallurgist TOP 500 REVIEWER on December 26, 2006
Format: Hardcover
This is a well-written, highly entertaining and enlightening book. As the title says, this is a book about scientists; however, it is not just a series of biographies, but rather uses the lives of the scientists to tell the history of science. It is written by a scientist for a general audience (little or no mathematics is used), but it is illuminating for a scientist (such as myself) as well. It puts Physics, and to a somewhat lesser extent Chemistry and Biology in a historical context and shows how these disciplines evolved. The author is a proponent of the incremental view of the development of science and makes a compelling argument that the advancement of science is not solely due to the work of individual geniuses, but rather is due to the incremental development of technology, which makes new instruments possible, and to the incremental accumulation of previous discoveries. He believes that when the right technology is developed and sufficient discoveries made, the stage is then set for what appears to be a scientific revolution, created by some towering intellect, but that the discovery would have come about without that towering figure. He makes a case that even the towering achievements of Newton and Einstein would have eventually been made by others. In the case of Newton, he points out that Robert Hooke and Edmond Halley were well on the way to formulating the laws of gravity (although without the mathematical genius of Newton). He makes a similar case for the work of Einstein, but I think that insofar as General Relativity is concerned, it is much less clear that this is the case.Read more ›
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