Boorstin's choice of ""discoverers"" to title this omnibus history of the growth of scientific knowledge reflects his view...



Boorstin's choice of ""discoverers"" to title this omnibus history of the growth of scientific knowledge reflects his view of the importance of pivotal people, as well as the idea that knowledge is a revealing or an uncovering of ever broader vistas in time or space. He begins with primitive notions of time and the increasing need to develop means of measuring its passage--a natural enough entrÉe to astrology, astronomy, clocks, and calendars. Similarly, early limitations of human geographical horizons give way to inventions and explorations that take the adventurer, pilgrim, commercial exploiter, or conqueror to wider spheres and new concepts of the world's dimensions. Biological knowledge proceeds by a voyage inwards, first at the gross anatomy level; later by microscopic explorations. The chronological elaborations within the volume's four main books--Time, The Earth and the Seas, Nature, and Society--further underscore the journey metaphor with such chapters as ""The Week: Gateway to Science,"" ""Missionary Diplomats,"" ""In Search of the Missing Link,"" ""An Expanding Universe of Wealth."" While hardly a novel approach, the scheme helps to unify the mass of materials chosen for inclusion. Again there are few surprises. Boorstin has relied on excellent authorities: Gillispie's Dictionary of Scientific Biography, the Singer History of Technology volumes, the works of Needham, Samuel Eliot Morison, and others--as well as having ready-to-hand the resources available to the Librarian of Congress. (Boorstin, indeed, provides an enthusiastic reader's guide to the materials he has used that shows the exact sources of his inspiration.) Boorstin's fleshing out of history with star performers is done skillfully and serves to sustain the reader along the long road, even if there are no profound insights and the cast is mostly familiar--Marco Polo, Columbus, Captain Cook, Darwin. (A few surprises turn up apropos of ""The Cult of the Primitive""--from Boorstin's own exceptional knowledge of obscure America material.) Boorstin does enjoy an occasional pun, and his digressions on etymology are often fresh: to roam, for example may come from English Pilgrims who dallied in the Italian capital and never made it to Jerusalem; ""bombast,"" on the other hand, probably does not derive from the proper name of Paracelsus. In sum: a pleasing if predictable survey of pathways and pathfinders; a natural expansion of Boorstin's earlier, landmark volumes (""All the world is still an America""); a present-day, one-volume successor--inevitably--to the Durants.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 1983

ISBN: 0394726251

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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