Customer Reviews: The Scientists: A History of Science Told Through the Lives of Its Greatest Inventors
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on November 28, 2009
If you expect this book to illuminate the lives of natural philosophers and scientists; to detail their idiosyncracies, oddities, obsessions, and personalities; to explore the politics and prevailing social and religious winds of their day -- then this book will be a joy for you to read, and you will delight in its pages.

If you expect this book to describe the thinking of these intellectual forefathers and -mothers of ours; to sort through their theories and how they arrived at them; to paint a big picture of the history of science that enables you to see the overarching themes and trends -- then this book, sadly, will be a disappointment.

There is no doubt that Gribbin has written a tale that is grand in scope, expansive in nature, and overall exciting, enthralling and even downright juicy (who would have thought that the lives of natural philosophers and scientists were filled with such scandal and self-indulgence?). However, one should approach this book with the knowledge that it is more about quirks than quarks, more about natural passions than natural laws, and more about the history of scientific personalities than the history of scientific thought.
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on March 5, 2007
This is the book to buy for that teenager who loves the humanities, religion, literature but is AFRAID of science. Astrophysicist John Gribbin writes superbly about the great developments of Western Science from Copernicus to Einstein or Mendel, Darwin, and Watson and Crick. He truly has a gift for explaining the basics of science without burying the reader in mathematics or technical language. The strategy is to explain scientific advances through the lives of the great men who pushed the limits of scientific advances...such as the race to discover the spiral helix structure of DNA or the thought experiments of Farady and Einstein.
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on January 7, 2006
I found this book very enlightening. Considering the enormity of the task Gribbin cut out for himself, I was impressed by the achievement. The right amount of information, both personal and scientific, was presented for each scientist. I especially liked the section headings that helped me find my way around when refering to something written earlier. I never got lost in the sea of names and events that usually mark a book of this type. Gribbin's style is highly readable.

I am a science teacher and will be using this in class.
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on August 22, 2013
Gribbin's book is entertaining and contains useful insights, but also many oversights. It neglects the contributions of the Greek atomists and Islamic (not to mention other non-Western) science. With respect to the former, Gribbin fails to place in complete and accurate perspective the role of the Church in suppressing acceptance of atomism - insights that Gribbin attributes to Gassendi and others are attributable to the rediscovery of Lucretius' extraordinarily prescient poem "On the Nature of Things." With respect to the latter, the mathematical analysis of celestial movements so essential to Western science owes much to the Arab world. Discussion of the relationship of Hooke to Newton is interesting, but the acrimonious fight with Leibnitz is neglected. Gribbin neglects Newton's belief that God DOES intervene occasionally to correct celestial movements and other natural processes, and he fails to evaluate his "hypotheses non fingo" remark. He gives Bacon very short shrift, despite his importance in the founding of experimental science. Lamarck is ridiculed, but the vindication of some of his ideas by understanding of epigenetics is not mentioned. In summary, Gribbin's The Scientists is good as one of several books if the reader wants to understand the sweep of modern science, but it is insufficient by itself.
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on June 10, 2007
Wayne Booth (The Company We Keep) describes a good author as a friend. Well, John Gribbin is definitely a friend. While I do not agree with his mild and barely mentioned aethism, his love of science is heartfelt as he brings it to life through individual human beings.

This is not a dull science book. It has no formulas or math except to explain scientific laws as simply as possible. Neither is it a "science for dummies" either. Instead, this book is best read by the fireside. It is top quality literature which is insightful and deep while retaining the human element all the way through. Given its inexpensive price, this book is a winner all around.

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves stories. I would especially recommend this book for anyone interested in the history of scientific ideas and the people who advanced them. This book is also useful material for college courses in science, history or literature.
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on July 11, 2005
Five centuries or so of history of science in a single volume: that is an accomplishment. The author seems to prefer some scientists instead of others and gives more details for those that he probably likes the most and overlooks others. So the coverage is not equal. Having said that, he puts the scientific discoveries in context and makes the all story an interesting discovery in itself. The main thesis is that discoveries are not accidental and the scientist does not live in a vaccum but instead it is a slow process that builds on previous scientists and discoveries. What is not about: it's not a history of medicine, nor a history of machines. Physics (and a little bit of chemistry) and biology seem to be his main subjects (physics definetively more than biology). He keeps the subject very simple and sometimes for the sake of simplicity he omits some details about the scientific discovery itself for which explanations are not provided: for instance, the general theory of relativity or the Kepler's 3 laws are left for further readings. All in all, it is a beautiful book that I sincerely recommend to the reader.
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on July 22, 2011
This is a meaty but somewhat boring book. It covers a lot of ground starting with Copernicus. It also highlights how the work of the early scientists was carried forward to later work. I expected more of the actual writings of the scientists.

Overall, a good read.
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on April 29, 2014
I enjoyed this book tremendously. It is an incredibly comprehensive overview of the progress of scientific thought from the ancient Greeks to present day (approximately 2000). Gribbin has organized the book basically chronologically, but he also organizes his chapters along themes such as astronomy or life sciences. Generally, he treats mathematical advancements as outside the scope of the book unless they have a bearing on the ability to analyze and lead to scientific understandings. He makes a strong case for how science has been built incrementally, from step to step (although some steps are larger). This book is enthralling and interesting because Gribbin does such a nice job in describing the scientists as people with all of their foibles and eccentricities, and he is good to point out funny coincidences and ironies. This book was so good and has so much interesting detail that I plan to read it again.
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on April 13, 2008
After purchasing this book I quickly perused it and rashly thought I would not like it. The author makes short shrift of the biological sciences, he neglects German science, and he does not cover anthropology at all (except for, by implication, Darwin). But a few weeks later I picked it up again and became immersed in what, by any measure, is a fascinating and delightful narrative. I've read a good deal of literature in the history of science, and I don't think I've encountered anything in the field so cogently written and eminently readable. He undertook a breathtaking sweep of history here, with a lot to cover, and to structure the narrative around biography to make it more interesting is an ingenious idea. His understanding of the progress of scientific theory is solid; contrary to what one reviewer notes, there was no Greek or Roman science! Science has its roots in the European Renaissance, but really doesn't arise until afterwards, and Gribbin notes this explicitly in his text (hence the reason for not including them). Indeed, one could say that what distinguishes the Medieval/Renaissance world from ours is science. Also, Gribbin understands that the scientific method is born out of the interaction between theory, experiment, and observation, between deduction and empirical analysis/testing.
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on March 20, 2009
This is a conflicted book. The first thing the author tells us in the Introduction is that "the most important thing that Science has taught us about our place in the Universe is that we are not special." Of course, he then goes on for 647 pages telling us all about the special people who proved this fact. He tells us that "what is much more important than human genius is the development of technology, and it is no surprise that the start of the scientific revolution `coincides' with the development of the telescope and the microscope." But technology is also developed by intelligent people - some might call them geniuses. And he repeatedly argues against rapid change, believing instead that "we see science progressing by evolution, not revolution." (561) He reminds us that catastrophism was connected with religious arguments like the story of the Great Flood (314), which may explain some of his dislike for theories of rapid change. But the reader gets the impression he's arguing against Thomas Kuhn (another reviewer picked this up, too. Is Gribbin known for this? I haven't read anything else by him), even though he never mentions Kuhn.

The best feature of The Scientists is its focus on the wider cast of characters surrounding the well-known names, and on the families of the famous scientists and the environments they lived and worked in. This provides a basis for Gribbin's argument that science advances through the contributions of many. The story of evolution is richer when Darwin is surrounded by Charles Lyell and Alfred Russel Wallace, not to mention his grandfather Erasmus (who in addition to his original theories of evolution translated Linnaeus into English) and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (Gribbin doesn't mention Robert Chambers' Vestiges). Similarly, Gribbin explains the connection between chemistry (molecular bonding and especially Linus Pauling's discovery of hydrogen bonds), X-ray crystallography, and Watson & Crick's elaboration of the DNA molecule. It's interesting that Pauling (originally a quantum physicist) was quite close to solving the puzzle, and that Rosalind Franklin's "crucial X-ray data" played a "vital role" in the building of the double-helix model, for which she never received proper credit. (565)
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