Books by Susan Sheets-Pyenson

Released: May 1, 1999

This volume presents an amalgam of historical and philosophical discussions, from the founding of the first scientific societies in the 17th century, to whether the end of the 20th century is more influenced by postmodernism or relativity. The husband-and-wife team of Pyenson (the author of previous works on the history of science) and the late Sheets-Pyenson (both historians at the Univ. of Southwestern Louisiana) begin their discourse with the Greek Sophists of the fifth century b.c. They outline the history of educational institutions, from the origins of modern universities in the 13th century through joint fellowships common in the 20th. Next, the authors cover early scientific societies, principally the Royal Society of London and the AcadÇmie des Sciences in France. Also examined early in the book are institutions such as museums and botanical gardens. The middle section of the book concentrates on scientific inventions, measurements, and record-keeping. The importance of Gutenberg and his moveable type begins a chapter that also discusses the importance of the bird illustrations of John James Audubon. Questions such as "Has the precision deriving from the domestication of electrons in solid-state physics empowered or emprisoned the human spirit?" are typical. In the final, "sensibilities" section, the authors examine such topics as the ideology of Francis Bacon and the positivism of Auguste Comte. Throughout the book, the authors manage to conjure up obscure characters and institutions. Roman nobleman Pliny the Elder, for example, died while trying to observe erupting Mt. Vesuvius from too close a distance. The Department of Terrestrial Magnetism competes for the title of most banal with the likes of the Ipswitch Cucumber Society, the Bureau of Longitudes, and the Quekett Microscopical Club. A litany of scientific institutions and belief systems from ancient to modern times, Servants of Nature supplies trivia on a variety of topics, without providing the reader with a coherent thesis. (12 illustrations, not seen) Read full book review >