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TECH TALK: Good Books: The Scientists

January 9th, 2004 · No Comments

Tracy Kidders Mountains Beyond Mountains traces the story of one persons quest to cure the world. John Gribbins The Scientists sheds light on the lives of the greatest inventors over the past 500 years. From the books description: John Gribbin tells the stories of the people who have made science, and of the times in which they lived and worked. He begins with Copernicus, during the Renaissance, when science replaced mysticism as a means of explaining the workings of the world, and he continues through the centuries, creating an unbroken genealogy of not only the greatest but also the more obscure names of Western science, a dot-to-dot line linking amateur to genius, and accidental discovery to brilliant deduction.

I havent been much of a reader of profiles or biographies or history. But as I seek out my own goals and objectives, I am finding it helpful to read about our rich heritage especially in the sciences. Even as we see a lot of change in the world around us, the foundations were laid centuries ago and one could go back right to the contributions Indians made to the world of science, mathematics and philosophy. If there is one thing reading about the lives of people and the stories of their inventions highlights, it is the sheer conviction that they had in their beliefs. They were entrepreneurs in their own right.

Writes John Gribbin: The importance of the people and their lives is that they reflect the society in which they lived, and by discussing, for example, the way the work of one specific scientist followed from that of the other, I mean to indicate the way in which one generation of scientists influenced the nextScience is one of the greatest achievements (arguably the greatest achievement) of the human mind, and the fact that progress has actually been made, in the most part, by ordinarily clever people building step by step from the work of their predecessors makes the story more remarkable, not less. Almost any of the readers of this book, had they been in the right place at the right time, could have made the scientific discoveries described here. And since the progress of science has by no means come to a half, some of you may be yet involved in the next step in the story.

The story does indeed continue in every sphere of science. In our world where we evaluate success or failure of tasks in days and months, it can sometimes become hard to see the progress that is being made across all areas of science. What the book does is show how today and tomorrow would not have been possible had it not been for the efforts of the scientists of yesterday.

QuickSilver

An interesting, and very different book, is Neal Stephensons QuickSilver. It is the first of a trilogy. Writes Amazom.com: The novel, divided into three books, opens in 1713 with the ageless Enoch Root seeking Daniel Waterhouse on the campus of what passes for MIT in eighteenth-century Massachusetts. Daniel, Enoch’s message conveys, is key to resolving an explosive scientific battle of preeminence between Isaac Newton and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz over the development of calculus. As Daniel returns to London aboard the Minerva, readers are catapulted back half a century to recall his years at Cambridge with young Isaac. Daniel is a perfect historical witness. Privy to Robert Hooke’s early drawings of microscope images and with associates among the English nobility, religious radicals, and the Royal Society, he also befriends Samuel Pepys, risks a cup of coffee, and enjoys a lecture on Belgian waffles and cleavage-all before the year 1700.

Next Week: More Good Books


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