Science: A Four Thousand Year History

Paperback | March 11, 2010

byPatricia Fara

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Science: A Four Thousand Year History rewrites science's past. Instead of focussing on difficult experiments and abstract theories, Patricia Fara shows how science has always belonged to the practical world of war, politics, and business. Rather than glorifying scientists as idealized heroes,she tells true stories about real people - men (and some women) who needed to earn their living, who made mistakes, and who trampled down their rivals in their quest for success. Fara sweeps through the centuries, from ancient Babylon right up to the latest hi-tech experiments in genetics and particle physics, illuminating the financial interests, imperial ambitions, and publishing enterprises that have made science the powerful global phenomenon that it is today. She alsoranges internationally, illustrating the importance of scientific projects based around the world, from China to the Islamic empire, as well as the more familiar tale of science in Europe, from Copernicus to Charles Darwin and beyond. Above all, this four thousand year history challenges scientific supremacy, arguing controversially that science is successful not because it is always right - but because people have said that it is right.

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Science: A Four Thousand Year History rewrites science's past. Instead of focussing on difficult experiments and abstract theories, Patricia Fara shows how science has always belonged to the practical world of war, politics, and business. Rather than glorifying scientists as idealized heroes,she tells true stories about real people - m...

Patricia Fara lectures in the History and Philosophy of Science at the University of Cambridge and is the Senior Tutor of Clare College. Her major research speciality is eighteenth-century England, but she has published a range of academic and popular books on the history of science, increasingly with an emphasis on analysing scientif...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:448 pages, 7.72 × 5.08 × 0.04 inPublished:March 11, 2010Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0199580278

ISBN - 13:9780199580279

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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Scientific History Under an Expert's Microscope Patricia Fara has the hard academic chops - a degree in physics - and exactly the right contextual background - a PhD in History of Science - to attempt a book such as this, but as all scientists know, the right ingredients do not always provide the expected outcome. Fortunately for us, Fara is both well practiced and extremely capable, delivering a wonderful, insightful and non-traditional perspective on the history of science. Fara’s logical framework is not just a chronological retelling, but is grouped into seven sections containing logical themes: Origins, Interactions, Experiments, Institutions, Laws, Invisibles and Decisions. The book does unfold sequentially, but each section’s thematic underpinning helps readers link the seemingly unrelated events of a particular era. The thematic approach allows Fara to bring in important points or relations that are completely ignored elsewhere. For example, the slightly different German approach to experiments and their view of Naturalphilosophen is well explained and allows readers to reflect on our British-American centric views of science. Later, Fara takes dead aim at the common misconception of the scientific revolution, showing instead the inevitable intertwining of commerce, trade, culture and politics. Similarly, the chapter on Uncertainties (concluding the Invisibles section) was a delight to read, weaving together Freud, Einstein and “the 20th century’s most important philosopher of science”, Karl Popper. For those familiar with the subject, Fara’s storytelling is more akin to Bryson’s entertaining “A Short History of Nearly Everything” than it is to Stewart’s more analytical “Why Beauty is Truth: The History of Symmetry”, though she shares with the latter a very strong scientific imprint - a powerful combination. Enhanced by a crisp prose, interesting anecdotes, and a generous sampling of interesting illustrations, Fara combines the best mix of storytelling, scientific facts, and academic opinion. The accompanying illustrations - 59 of them - are interesting, illuminating, always germane, and well explained in the body. With respect to the groundbreaking scientific discoveries themselves, Fara provides explanation not just of the discoveries, but also: their historical context; as noted above their conceptual links to other, seemingly unrelated events and discoveries; and to their lasting impact on future scientific thought. For example, Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection (commonly referred to as his Theory of Evolution) receives the recognition it deserves, but it is featured not just as the groundbreaking science it was at the time, but also as a catalyst for more discovery as its truth was debated over the following decades. The role of women in science, and the treatment of women (and non-Nordic races) is firmly and repeatedly noted, as befits an author whose previous books include “Pandora’s Breeches: Women, Science and Power in the Enlightenment”. Interesting too are the many examples of research practices we would now consider unethical, and in particular where they took place (e.g. USA, Sweden), and who conducted them (e.g. Pasteur). Fara’s book is an excellent overview of the triumphs (and failures) of science over the past four millennia. She gives structure and context to what appear to be isolated islands of discovery - discoveries that have advanced our knowledge and made our lives easier, richer, or healthier - and in just over 350 pages she explores these far flung islands to map a storied archipelago. Well researched, well written, and hopefully well read.
Date published: 2012-11-22

Extra Content

Table of Contents

IntroductionPart I: Origins1. Sevens2. Babylon3. Heroes4. Cosmos5. Life6. Matter7. TechnologyPart II: Interactions8. Eurocentrism9. China10. Islam11. Scholarship12. Europe13. Aristotle14. AlchemyPart III: Experiments15. Exploration16. Magic17. Astronomy18. Bodies19. Machines20. Instruments21. GravityPart IV: Institutions22. Societies23. Systems24. Careers25. Industries26. Revolutions27. Rationality28. DisciplinesPart V: Laws29. Progress30. Globalization31. Objectivity32. God33. Evolution34. Power35. TimePart VI: Invisibles36. Life37. Disease38. Rays39. Particles40. Genes41. Chemicals42. UncertaintiesPart VII:43. Warfare44. Heredity45. Cosmology46. Information47. Rivalry48. Environment49. FuturesPostscript

Editorial Reviews

"Wide-ranging and provocative... Romps through history at a terrific rate" --The Economist 11/06/2009