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Discarded Science: Ideas That Seemed Good at the Time...

3.5 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1904332497
ISBN-10: 1904332498
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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Anyone interested in the history, development, and the refinement of scientific ideas, methods, and thinking will be engrossed by this book." -- School Science Review, June, 2007
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Facts, Figures & Fun (October 28, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904332498
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904332497
  • Product Dimensions: 7.4 x 4.8 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,858,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By C. Peterson on May 18, 2007
Format: Hardcover
"Discarded Science" is a nicely readable book describing what used to be "known" about the world, life and the universe. For example, when the Earth was flat, how did the best minds of the day explain the movement of the stars? This book tells us. The reader need not be well versed in science to enjoy the book - the writing is very accessible.

However, Grant spends a good amount of time lambasting crackpots who have cropped up from time to time, many of whom were never taken seriously in the first place. The book would have been much more interesting had he stuck to describing what was the orthodox thinking, even if it was wrong. A Rogue's Gallery of Nutcases would have made an entertaining (other) book.

The illustrations in the book are black line drawings with red backgrounds that are very tough on the eyes.
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Format: Hardcover
The title misled me into thinking that this book would offer a careful consideration of what made some scientific ideas "seem good at the time." Unfortunately, this is only true of a few of the vast number of outdated ideas considered in this book. The author intends, apparently, to be encyclopedic--everything is considered here, even things no one would claim were ever thought to be scientific hypotheses (e.g., cannibalism to acquire the powers of one's enemies). However, like an encyclopedia, most entrees are brief, the exceptions being the ones the author seems a little obsessed by (intelligent design and religion in general get bashed repeatedly, sometimes amusingly, but usually in a way that makes you embarrassed for the author). George Bush gets beat up a fair number of times too, for related reasons, but this betrays the polemic character of the book, which is often condescending (in the spirit of "look at these quaint or irrational ideas... we know so much better now, unless you're a Christian fundamentalist moron!") (Incidentally, I'm not.) As a scientist myself--I teach physics at the College level--I expected more rigor to the criticisms and more scholarship. For example, not a single quotation comes with a page citation, and several quotations are not mentioned at all in the Bibliography). In short, an easy read, but disappointing.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is an intriguing bestiary of peculiar scientific ideas that were eventually cast aside as hokum. Encompassing everything from Velikovsky's wacky cosmological theories to phrenology to the idea that we're all living inside the earth, Grant's work provides an excellent overview of the pseudoscience of yesteryear. Other reviewers have commented on how Grant goes out of his way to jab at religious folks, but really he's going out of his way to jab at young earth creationists and, let's face it, they probably deserve it. In any event, it didn't hinder my enjoyment of the book, but I can see how some people might find it distracting.

That being said, some of the actual presentation left a lot to be desired. The peculiar red line-art illustrations (to prevent photocopying..?) were kind of an eyesore, and the book itself has kind of peculiar dimensions (very compact yet extremely thick) that make it somewhat unwieldy and unappealing. If you can look past the unattractive presentation, this book is definitely worth a look. It's fascinating to see what bizarre ideas used to lurk in the shadowy periphery of science, even in the relatively recent past.
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Format: Hardcover
DISCARDED SCIENCE is a bargain. For ten bucks the reader gains a historical perspective on scientific ideas that have proven to be wrong. Some of them, such as phlogiston (a substance that causes fire) were considered scientifically valid for decades or even centuries. Others, such as the European UFO cult the Raelians, have never been taken seriously except by the cult's adherents.

John Grant neatly divides his attractive hardcover into six general categories, including "Worlds in Upheaval," "Lost Worlds, Lost People, Lost Creatures," "Survival of the Brightest," "Aliens Among Us," "Hard Science," and "Us . . . Or Something Like Us." These categories are further subdivided into user-friendly, illustrated chapters that examine everything outre from Atlantis to the Zetetic Society. The writing is lucid and at times very funny.

DISCARDED SCIENCE is the best non-fiction book I've read in ages. It's entertaining and very informative, and the price is more than reasonable. I highly recommend it for those interested in science, or for those who want to educate themselves about the history of scientific folly.
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Format: Hardcover
I love science-for-the-layman histories and have a shelf of them, from Richard Feynman's autobiography to Ed Regis's multiple bios in his survey of physicists, "Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition: Science Slightly Over the Edge" (1991).

Morever, I enjoy popular science in many genres - books about biology, astronomy, paleontology, natural history, ethology, human psychology and physiology - such as Leslie Brothers's 2001 "Friday's Footprint: How Society Shapes the Human Mind," John McCrone's "The Ape that Spoke" (1991) and "The Myth of Irrationality: The Science of the Mind from Plato to Star Trek" (1994), Colin Tudge's "The Tree: A Natural History of What Trees Are, How They Live, and Why They Matter" (2006), Frans de Waal's "The Ape and the Sushi Master: Cultural Reflections of a Primatologist" (2002), and so many more.

I could list more titles, but I've mentioned the above for the benefit of those interested in particular disciplines. John Grant has written a delightful study of debunked and outdated theories and beliefs. "Discarded Science" will fascinate everyone from high school readers to adults who retain a youthful sense of wonder, not to mention a sense of humor.

Grant has composed his history of science gone awry as partly biographical, partly chronological, entirely informative and highly entertaining.

As a librarian, I recommend this for all libraries.
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