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.
*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 TaylorCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved