Brief history of science Review and Opinion


A Brief History Of Science:
As Seen Through the Development of Scientific Instruments
Thomas Crump
Constable hardcover £20

review by Christopher Geary

In the preface, Thomas Crump notes the sad lack of useful scientifically-inclined history books, today, and he asks why, if authors still write general histories of other subjects has science been so neglected? The answer, he explains, is that the last 200 years has simply bought us too much science - hence the subtitle of this text, which narrows the focus of the author's surveying gaze, while not ignoring scientific progress in theoretical fields.
   Starting, appropriately, with fire, Crump still finds it necessary to skim whole eras of the ancient world, only spotlighting great discoveries, major breakthroughs and revolutionary yet primitive technologies, to advance rapidly through concepts like measurement, and the vital practice of writing - for keeping of accurate scientific records, to the Ptolemaic universe model, and its inevitable collapse. And so, by chapter two, we are already in the age of Copernicus and Newton, where the formation of physical laws drove further lines of logical inquiry, and enabled the industrial phases which shaped the modern age.
   Step by step reconsiderations of the steam engine, telegraphy, electromagnetism, cathode rays, powered flight, thermodynamics, the periodic table, photography, microscopy, photosynthesis, radioactivity, the Manhattan project, quantum theory, and astronomy are assembled to demonstrate how links between various fields of science like physics and chemistry have opened up reality for study. Although there are a few equations, and chemical formulae, Crump sagely avoids examples of higher math which prove an anathema to the layman, and he works through checklists of bright inventions and important devices that show relevance to daily life, and uses thumbnail biographies of the thinkers and scientists to further perk up coldly rationalistic subjects with the warmth of human drama.
   Copious endnotes, a glossary, and an index help turn this textbook into a useful reference work, that makes for instructive reading, and offers strong educational values.

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