Great Scientists and Their Discoveries from Archimedes to DNA
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A mixed bag of essays on 12 great scientists, derived from a series of radio shows hosted by the author. Bragg (The Sword and the Miracle, 1997, etc.), host of the British program Start the Week, combines a lot of direct dialogue from his radio series with background material and chronologies of the lives of his esteemed scientists. The book assembles its list of greats in chronological order, beginning with Archimedes and ending with Francis Crick and James Watson, the researchers who uncovered the double-helix structure of DNA. Each essay begins with a few of the author’s thoughts, followed in short order by sound bites from the guests on his show—themselves leading contemporary scientists such as Richard Dawkins, Paul Davies, and Roger Penrose. Their insights range from the philosophical (if Einstein had not lived, would someone else have discovered relativity?) to the apocryphal (Archimedes shouting “Eureka!” and jumping from the bath). At times in the expository material, Bragg likes to dramatize, pointing out for example that “ . . . if you get [your hypothesis] wrong, the fate of intellectuals in China is pretty gruesome. Lots of castration, lots of people being killed. . . .” One guest recounts Newton performing some vision experiments by sticking things into his own eye. While describing the driven nature of Marie Curie, Bragg also points out the deep love she had for her husband. After Pierre Curie was run over by a horse-drawn carriage, a devastated Marie wrote that “he is gone for ever, leaving me nothing but desolation and despair.” And Einstein, according to one of the radio show’s guests, deliberately played upon his image as an eccentric scientist. In the end, Bragg and his guests examine, with diametrically opposing viewpoints, whether all the fundamental discoveries in science have already happened. A series of meandering discussions of great scientists that is two parts Charlie Rose to one part Bill Maher. (12 photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1999
ISBN: 0-471-35732-4
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Wiley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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