THE PHYSICISTS: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America by Daniel J. Kevles
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THE PHYSICISTS: The History of a Scientific Community in Modern America

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In this absorbing and comprehensive study of the birth and development of physics--a time span of just about a century in America--Kevles neatly demonstrates how scientific creativity and inspiration make for a hierarchical elitism which vies with the egalitarian spirit of a democracy. As a corollary, the pursuit of abstract truth, valued in its own right, is constantly under tension from government and industry critics who find society's practical needs of higher priority. Plotting developments from decade to decade following the Civil War, Kevles touches upon the evolution of higher learning and the change from religious-philosophical-gentlemanly pursuits to high-status departments of science. He discusses the emerging land grant universities and the new schools like the University of Chicago or Caltech with their standards of excellence which continue, along with the older establishment, to be concentrations of peak scientific talent. The wars, depressions, anti-intellectualism, anti-Semitism, ""honeymoon"" periods, have marked principal highs and lows in the relations between science and society. This is a scholarly work, presumably based on the author's unpublished Princeton doctoral thesis. Along with the many annotated remarks, fine anecdotes, and sharp quotes, there are brief biographies of major figures and interesting analyses of the role of popularization, public attitudes, and divisions within the ranks of scientists themselves (such as the present recombinant DNA controversy). In addition, there is enough of the content of nuclear physics research to convey to the reader what American--and world--physics have established down to the latest quark and anti-quark. A major contribution to the history and interaction of science and culture.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1977
Publisher: Knopf