THE SCIENTIFIC REVOLUTION

A short but dense exposition arguing that there really wasn't a dramatic shift in how scholars went about discovering truth about the world in the 17th century. In other accounts of the science of the period, differences in points of view among scientists have certainly been noted, but only Shapin has been willing to argue that there was no sudden, clear break from the past, no single revolutionary change in the scientific viewpoint. Shapin's (Sociology/Univ. of California, San Diego) point is that there were many threads making up the fabric of 17th-century thought. To be sure, there were some fundamental principles in the study of science (or, as it was then known, natural philosophy). But while there was general agreement in the turn toward an exploration of the practical (mechanical/material) causes for observed phenomena, the methods of pursuit varied greatly. For some scientists and philosophers, inductive approaches via experimental data seemed the right path; others embraced deduction via rational theorizing. For most, natural philosophy was never divorced from a belief in the divine, although here too opinions differed. The divine for some was an all-present, all-potent force; for others, the divine was the distant prime mover who set the clockwork world in motion. Shapin singles out key players like Boyle, Hooke, Bacon, and Newton in England, Galileo in Italy, and Descartes in France. He emphasizes the need to set them in their specific cultural contexts as well as to see them as heirs to the inventions and discoveries that expanded the dimensions of space and time. Because of the rise of scientific societies and the printing press, communication of ideas could also flourish, increasing the arena for debate and controversy. In this revisionist text, Shapin offers a provocative new reading of a formative period in the history of science. (30 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-226-75020-5

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Univ. of Chicago

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1996

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

THE ORDER OF TIME

Undeterred by a subject difficult to pin down, Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity, 2017, etc.) explains his thoughts on time.

Other scientists have written primers on the concept of time for a general audience, but Rovelli, who also wrote the bestseller Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, adds his personal musings, which are astute and rewarding but do not make for an easy read. “We conventionally think of time,” he writes, “as something simple and fundamental that flows uniformly, independently from everything else, uniformly from the past to the future, measured by clocks and watches. In the course of time, the events of the universe succeed each other in an orderly way: pasts, presents, futures. The past is fixed, the future open….And yet all of this has turned out to be false.” Rovelli returns again and again to the ideas of three legendary men. Aristotle wrote that things change continually. What we call “time” is the measurement of that change. If nothing changed, time would not exist. Newton disagreed. While admitting the existence of a time that measures events, he insisted that there is an absolute “true time” that passes relentlessly. If the universe froze, time would roll on. To laymen, this may seem like common sense, but most philosophers are not convinced. Einstein asserted that both are right. Aristotle correctly explained that time flows in relation to something else. Educated laymen know that clocks register different times when they move or experience gravity. Newton’s absolute exists, but as a special case in Einstein’s curved space-time. According to Rovelli, our notion of time dissolves as our knowledge grows; complex features swell and then retreat and perhaps vanish entirely. Furthermore, equations describing many fundamental physical phenomena don’t require time.

As much a work of philosophy as of physics and full of insights for readers willing to work hard.

Pub Date: May 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1610-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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