From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Bryson (A Short History of Nearly Everything) presents a remarkable collection of essays celebrating the 350th anniversary of the founding of the Royal Society of London and its many contributions to science. Society members have included such illustrious names as Darwin, Newton, Leibniz, and Francis Bacon, to name a few. The volume's 23 contributors are both uniformly excellent and remarkable for their diversity. For example, novelist Margaret Atwood writes a very personal piece about the image of the scientist and its sometime appearance as the "mad scientist." Science historian Paul Davies writes about the effects on Western society of the realization that we are not the center of the universe. Biologist Richard Dawkins opines about the revolutionary nature of Darwin's discoveries, and science fiction writer Gregory Benford contemplates the meaning of time. The wide array of scientific disciplines, including genetics, climate change, physics, and engineering, are each placed in a fresh and thought-provoking social and historical context. Bryson's name will bring readers in, but the real reward is fine writers writing about serious science in an accessible, good-natured style. It is a worthy celebration of the Royal Society. Color illus. (Nov.) (c)
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A Festschrift for the 350th anniversary of Britain’s Royal Society, this abundantly illustrated volume is not an institutional history. Rather, its 22 contributors address aspects of the scientific enterprise that a brain trust once headed by Isaac Newton has advanced so much. Several authors dwell on distinctions between theory and experiment, or between pure versus applied science. Another group tackles science’s perennial challenge of communicating to the public. Newton biographer James Gleick amusingly describes the Royal Society’s original journal as a cross between Physical Review and Ripley’s Believe It or Not; scientist Stephen Schneider and apocalypse-novelist Maggie Gee relate their efforts to focus attention on climate change; and science historian Simon Schaffer recounts a 1781 Royal Society controversy about Franklin’s lightning rod to suggest how the public should react when scientists disagree. A volume that enlists novelist Margaret Atwood to expatiate on fiction’s stock character of the mad scientist has something for everyone; that this one also showcases such popular scientist-authors as Martin Rees, Richard Dawkins, Richard Fortey, and Paul Davies ensures it will make a splash in the new-books display. --Gilbert Taylor