DAWN OF MODERN SCIENCE: From the Arabs to Leonardo da Vinci by Thomas Goldstein

DAWN OF MODERN SCIENCE: From the Arabs to Leonardo da Vinci

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

Medieval historian Thomas Goldstein (City College of New York) sees a continuum from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance in the evolution of the Western scientific point of view. He begins by reaching back in time to describe how figures and forces--e.g., the mathematical conceptualizations of Pythagoras--shaped cultural perspectives and left their legacies. Cultural change also occurs through rebellion, Goldstein maintains. Thus lie sees the rise of the mercantile class in the later Middle Ages as stemming in part from its opposition to feudalism and feudal overlords. The idea of a continuum in cultural history--even one seeded by rebellions within the ranks--might be disputed by such historians of science as the late Jacob Bronowski, for whom there existed a sharp schism between the hierarchical/mystical/magical beliefs of the medieval mind and the spirit of inquiry of modern science. But Goldstein is also more critical of modern science than Bronowski: he dislikes its cultural hegemony--especially apropos of human behavior--as much as he dislikes the rigidity of medieval transcendentalism. These are questions for the reader to ponder. Unto itself, Goldstein's scholarly work at hand is stamped with a charming, personal style. A pivotal chapter on the School of Chartres, for example, begins with his arrival there at high noon, to the ringing of the cathedral bells. Twelfth-century Chartres was the setting for major innovations in thought. The curriculum emphasized the ""quadrivium""--arithmetic, music (taught mathematically), geometry, and astronomy--rather than grammar, rhetoric, and logic, the ""trivium"" of traditional cathedral centers of learning. Through portraits of masters who preached a turning toward nature and free inquiry (that nonetheless fitted into a divine scheme of creation), Goldstein demonstrates how Chartres prepared the ground for modern Western science; but such groundwork might have gone for nought, he believes, had there not been a store of Islamic learning just south of the border in Spain. Arab lore plus medieval innovation in thinking powered the drive toward Renaissance humanism, the Enlightenment, and the scientific method. Excellent for its insights into medieval history and personalities, and food for thought--and controversy--among historians and scientists.

Pub Date: March 28th, 1980
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin