Not exactly a history of science but of our idea of science: a shrewd, thoughtful analysis of how our view of finding truth held steady throughout history and then, over a century, changed and produced the dazzling progress we often take for granted.
Until the 16th century, most people believed that everything worth knowing was already known and that all questions could be answered with deep thought. Aristotle, the ultimate authority in the West, taught that one found truth through logical deductions from incontestable premises. Thus, since the heavens are unchanging and the only permanently unchanging movement is circular, all heavenly movements are circular. According to that worldview, observations are irrelevant. Columbus shattered this concept in 1492; no deduction could have predicted a new continent. Within decades, men—e.g., Copernicus in astronomy and Vesalius in anatomy—were examining phenomena with a new curiosity, claiming their findings were true even if they contradicted the official views of those in power. Many boasted of their achievements. Wootton (History/Univ. of York; Galileo: Watcher of the Skies, 2010, etc.) describes this as “a quite new type of intellectual culture: innovative, combative, competitive, but at the same time obsessed with accuracy.” The author maintains that modern science took form between 1572, when Tycho Brahe saw a nova, or new star, and 1704, when Isaac Newton published Opticks, which demonstrated that white light consists of all colors of the rainbow and that color inheres in light rather than in objects. Except for denouncing modern philosophers who teach that truth is culturally determined, so all explanations of reality are equally valid, Wootton’s account, as massive and sweeping as it is, stops with Newton.
A superbly lucid examination of a dramatic revolution in human thought that deserves a place on the shelf with Thomas Kuhn and David Deutsch.