The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory

The Story of Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory

by Susan Wise Bauer


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A riveting road map to the development of modern scientific thought.

In the tradition of her perennial bestseller The Well-Educated Mind, Susan Wise Bauer delivers an accessible, entertaining, and illuminating springboard into the scientific education you never had. Far too often, public discussion of science is carried out by journalists, voters, and politicians who have received their science secondhand. The Story of Western Science shows us the joy and importance of reading groundbreaking science writing for ourselves and guides us back to the masterpieces that have changed the way we think about our world, our cosmos, and ourselves.

Able to be referenced individually, or read together as the narrative of Western scientific development, the book's twenty-eight succinct chapters lead readers from the first science texts by Hippocrates, Plato, and Aristotle through twentieth-century classics in biology, physics, and cosmology. The Story of Western Science illuminates everything from mankind's earliest inquiries to the butterfly effect, from the birth of the scientific method to the rise of earth science and the flowering of modern biology.

Each chapter recommends one or more classic books and provides entertaining accounts of crucial contributions to science, vivid sketches of the scientist-writers, and clear explanations of the mechanics underlying each concept. The Story of Western Science reveals science to be a dramatic undertaking practiced by some of history's most memorable characters. It reminds us that scientific inquiry is a human pursuit—an essential, often deeply personal, sometimes flawed, frequently brilliant way of understanding the world.

The Story of Western Science is an "entertaining and unique synthesis" (Times Higher Education), a "fluidly written" narrative that "celebrates the inexorable force of human curiosity" (Wall Street Journal), and a "bright, informative resource for readers seeking to understand science through the eyes of the men and women who shaped its history" (Kirkus).

Previously published as The Story of Science.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780393243260
Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 05/11/2015
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 350,871
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Susan Wise Bauer is a writer, educator, and historian. Her previous books include the Writing With Ease, Writing With Skill, and Story of the World series from Well-Trained Mind Press, as well as The Well-Trained Mind: A Guide to Classical Education at Home, The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, Rethinking School, The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, and the History of the World series, all from W. W. W. Norton. She has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the College of William & Mary in Virginia, as well as an M.A. in seventeenth-century literature and a Master of Divinity in Ancient Near Eastern Languages and Literature. For fifteen years, she taught literature and composition at the College of William and Mary.

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xiii

Acknowledgments xv

Preface: Or, How to use this book xvii

Part I The Beginnings

1 The First Science Texts: The first written attempt to explain the physical world in physical terms 3

2 Beyond Man: The first big-picture accounts of the universe 9

3 Change: The first theory of evolution 16

4 Grains of Sand: The first use of mathematics to measure the universe 21

5 The Void: The first treatise on nature to dispense entirely with the divine 32

6 The Earth-Centered Universe: The most influential science book in history 37

7 The Last Ancient Astronomer: An alternate explanation for the universe, with better mathematics, but no more proof 46

Part II The Birth of the Method

8 A New Proposal: A challenge to Aristotle, and the earliest articulation of the scientific method 55

9 Demonstration: The refutation of one of the greatest ancient authorities through observation and experimentation 63

10 The Death of Aristotle: The overthrow of ancient authority in favor of observations and proofs 70

11 Instruments and Helps: Improving the experimental method by distorting nature and extending the senses 80

12 Rules of Reasoning: Extending the experimental method across the entire universe 94

Part III Reading the Earth

13 The Genesis of Geology: The creation of the science of the earth 105

14 The Laws of the New Science: Two different theories are proposed as explanations for the earth's present form 115

15 A Long and Steady History: Uniformitarianism becomes the norm 128

16 The Unanswered Question: Calculating the age of the earth 134

17 The Return of the Grand Theory: Continental drift 141

18 Catastrophe, Redux: Bringing extraordinary events back into earth's history 149

Part IV Reading Life (With Special Reference to Us)

19 Biology: The first systematic attempt to describe the history of life 157

20 Natural Selection: The first naturalistic explanation for the origin of species 164

21 Inheritance: The laws, and mechanisms, of heredity revealed 174

22 Synthesis: Bringing cell-level discoveries and the grand story of evolution together 179

23 The Secret of Life: Biochemistry tackles the mystery of inheritance 185

24 Biology and Destiny: The rise of neo-Darwinist reductionism, and the resistance to it 199

Part V Reading the Cosmos (Reality)

25 Relativity: The limits of Newtonian physics 215

26 Damn Quantum Jumps: The discovery of subatomic random swerves 225

27 The Triumph of the Big Bang: Returning to the question of beginnings, and contemplating the end 238

28 The Butterfly Effect: Complex systems, and the (present) limits of our understanding 252

Notes 257

Works Cited 279

Index 295

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