The prolific author of the Story of the World series explores the history of science through the prism of key scientific texts.
Bauer (Writing and American Literature/Coll. of William and Mary; The Well-Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, 2003, etc.) explains that her intention is to trace “the development of great science writing—the essays and books that have most directly affected and changed the course of scientific investigation.” The author divides the book in five parts, and she provides a historical context for the texts she recommends and explains the reasons for her choices. Part I, “The Beginnings,” looks at the seminal writings on medicine by Hippocrates, as well as Plato, Aristotle, Archimedes, and Copernicus, who wrote his groundbreaking Commentariolus in 1514. Bauer compares different translations of the original text and explains their respective merits. In the second part, “The Birth of the Method,” the author introduces Newtonian physics, and parts III (“Reading the Earth”) and IV (“Reading Life”) deal with geology and biology, from earth science to Darwin's theory of natural selection and Crick and Watson's groundbreaking discovery of the structure of DNA. Bauer’s recommendations include Watson's The Double Helix and Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene. In the final section, “Reading the Cosmos,” the author begins with Einstein's theory of relativity and covers works on quantum theory, cosmology, and chaos theory. In addition to guiding inquisitive readers to the original texts that record landmark discoveries, Bauer also seeks to explain “the why” of scientific discovery. The scope of the book makes it susceptible to a certain amount of superficiality—e.g., Bauer's discussion of determinism in the context of chaos theory—but that does not detract from its value.
A bright, informative resource for readers seeking to understand science through the eyes of the men and women who shaped its history.