Skip to main content

The Scientific revolution: a very short introduction – Lawrence M. Principe ****

It’s easy for a very short guide to a subject to become a collection of information without narrative or style. Luckily Lawrence Principe’s entry in the OUP pocket guide series is the very reverse. It is elegantly written and fascinating to read.
Along the way you may well have your illusions about the history of science shattered. Nothing much happened in science between the Greeks and the renaissance? Wrong. They thought the Earth was flat in Columbus’s day? Wrong. Galileo’s trial was all about science versus the church? Wrong. What comes across most strongly – and it’s why I’ve always found medieval science absolutely fascinating – is that you have to see the world with a different mindset. It’s not that they were all illogical and stupid back then, merely that they started from different first principles and built logically but incorrectly on these.
This little book gives an excellent feeling for where our scientific ideas came from, how the approach to science was shaped by the universities and religion of the day, and how we need to have much less of a knee-jerk reaction to the way they got things wrong with astrology and natural magic and other similar silly sounding topics.
I’ve read a lot of these very short introductions to review them both here and elsewhere, and I’d say this is definitely one of my favourites. Not only is there is a surprising amount of thought provoking and very readable content, it is an absolute essential to understand where our modern approach to science has come from. Read it now.
Paperback:  
also on Kindle  
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lost in Math - Sabine Hossenfelder *****

One of my favourite illustrations from a science title was in Fred Hoyle's book on his quasi-steady state theory. It shows a large flock of geese all following each other, which he likened to the state of theoretical physics. In the very readable Lost in Math, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder exposes the way that in certain areas of physics, this is all too realistic a picture. (Hossenfelder gives Hoyle's cosmological theory short shrift, incidentally, though, to be fair, it wasn't given anywhere near as many opportunities to be patched up to match observations as the current version of big bang with inflation.)

Lost in Math is a very powerful analysis of what has gone wrong in the way that some aspects of physics are undertaken. Until the twentieth century, scientists made observations and experiments and theoreticians looked for theories which explained them, which could then be tested against further experiments and observations. Now, particularly in particle physics, it…

Gravity! - Pierre Binétruy ****

I had to really restrain myself from adopting the approach taken by The Register in referring to Yahoo! by putting an exclamation mark after every word in the text when faced with reviewing Gravity! One thing to be said about the punctuation, though, is it makes it easier to search for amongst a whole lot of books on gravity and gravitational waves (the subtitle is 'the quest for gravitational waves') since their discovery in 2015.

Despite the subtitle, Pierre Binétruy gives us far more - in fact, gravitational waves don't come into it until page 160, which makes it really more of a book about gravity with a bit on gravitational waves tacked on than a true exploration of the quest. 

However, those early pages aren't wasted - Binétruy gives us plenty of detail on all kinds of background, for example plunging in to tell us about element synthesis, something you wouldn't expect in a book on gravitational waves. I also really liked a little section on experiments you can…

Brain Based Enterprises - Peter Cook ****

A quick flag on this one: it's a management/business book, and the four star rating is with that in mind. Brain Based Enterprises does contain a surprising amount of science, considering this, which is why it's here, but don't expect it to be like a four star pure science book.

This is an eclectic attack on the status quo of our ideas about business. Peter Cook suggest that much of current business simply isn't oriented to the realities of a modern, technological world, and that we need to handle things very differently in a knowledge-based economy.

The book is divided into three sections. For me, the most interesting was the first 'brainy people' part, as my own business doesn't have teams and such - but for those who do there are also 'brainy teams' and 'brainy enterprises' sections. Cook stirs together a heady mix of science - from psychology to economics - music (a passion of his and a significant part of the way he works) and business the…