- Series: Canto
- Paperback: 107 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (July 30, 1993)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521457300
- ISBN-13: 978-0521457309
- Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,273,670 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Two Cultures (Canto)
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"Probably the most important statement on the role of science in society yet available." Discovery
This reissue of Snow's controversial Rede lecture of 1959 and it successor piece A Second Look has a new introduction that charts the history and context of the famous debate on the cultural split between the humanities and the sciences.
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Top customer reviews
C. P. Snow was a British scientist and novelist. His life straddled “the two cultures,” the scientific and the “classical” one, and thus he was in an ideal position to expound on the subject, which he did in 1959, in the “Rede Lecture” series. This series of lectures dates back to the 16th century, named after a British Chief Justice, and is given at Cambridge. They still exist, though they seem to be held on a more intermediate basis in the 21st century. The current Kindle edition is composed of 10 introductory essays, which is almost half of the work. The other half is Snow’s actual Rede lecture presented in 1959, and then a “second look” by Snow at the original lecture, which he presented four years later. The latter lecture addressed the impact and response to the original.
Naturally the 10 introductory essays are of variable quality. For me though, they provided much background on Snow himself, as well as the issues of the day which his central thesis addressed. And that that thesis is, per the introduction: “The ‘two cultures’ he identified were those of ‘the literary intellectuals’ (as he called them) and of the natural scientists, between whom he claimed to find a profound mutual suspicion and incomprehension, which in turn had damaging consequences for the prospects of applying technology to the alleviation of the world’s problems.” Further, a perceptive comment where his thoughts are today: “Snow and his ideas are beginning to encounter a fate which is common among episodes of recent intellectual history: they fall into a murky limbo, no longer accurately recalled as part of living contemporary culture but not yet beginning to benefit from patient historical reconstruction.”
I found the original lecture witty (helps to kept those in the back row awake), incisive, and blunt. Consider: “Most of our fellow human beings, for instance, are underfed and die before their time. In the crudest terms, that is the social condition. There is a moral trap which comes through the insight into man’s loneliness: it tempts one to sit back, complacent in one’s unique tragedy, and let the others go without a meal.” Describing the atmosphere at the “Trade School” succinctly, Snow says: “We hadn’t quite expected that the links with the traditional culture should be so tenuous, nothing more than a formal touch of the cap.” On the other hand, Snow found that none of the members of the “literary culture” had any idea what the Second Law of Thermodynamics is, which he considers to be the equivalent of a scientist never having read Shakespeare.
Snow proclaims that all too many intellectuals are Luddites. Only second after the agricultural revolution (the first one, when it was established) is the industrial-scientific one that started, initially in England, in the 19th century, in terms of changing the way we live. Yet, as he notes, “…almost none of the imaginative energy went back into the revolution which was producing the wealth.” He cites Ibsen as the only writer who truly understood the industrial revolution. The fundamental issue facing mankind, then, and even more so, now, as Snow formulates it: “for the sake of the poor who needn’t be poor if there is intelligence in the world.”
I found his “second look” equally informative. It included a devastating critique of the social outlook of the “supreme reactionary,” Dostoevsky, who he says is one of the greatest writers ever. Well, I’m glad I waited until now, when I have a better understanding of the issues, and the experience to appreciate Snow’s insights, and also have two feet which attempt to straddle these cultures. Finally, love the cover to the Kindle edition. 5-stars.