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12 August 2012 @ 05:01 pm
The Rise of Scientific Europe: 1500-1800  
kargicq recommended this book to me as a good introduction to the history of science and, since it was on Dad's bookshelves, I helped myself. It covers, essentially, the history of European science from Copernicus to the Chemical Revolution which, crucially, defines the period in which "scientific method" emerged and was refined.

It's definitely a good book. I actually really wish I'd read this before things like The Lunar Men, even though the latter is aimed at the layperson while this is aimed at undergraduates. The Lunar Men had an awkward tendency to assume you knew who people were (Priestley appears to have been my unexpected blind spot here) whereas The Rise of Scientific Europe was much more careful to introduce people and concepts properly. That said, my rather rusty O level chemistry was struggling at some points, mostly in terms of contrasting what was believed at the time to what is believed to be the case now.

When I read Man and Nature in the Renaissance, I complained that the author seemed to be confused between believing in stuff we now think incorrect, and believing in magic. There was a touch of that here, though not nearly so bad. The Rise of Scientific Europe seems a little bewildered by some of the objections to the theory of gravitation (when, you know, the fact that it relies on action at a distance is still a pretty big problem with the theory). On the other hand it was much more even handed with its discussion of Phlogiston versus Oxygen recognising both as scientific theories one of which finally won out over the other through a considerable program of experimentation and further theorising.

The only slight mystery I felt at the end of the book was a sense that Europe, within the space of a couple of decades in the late 17th century, went from a place where scientific style investigation was the minority interest of a handful of people to a place in which every city was almost knee-deep in scientific societies. Of course, cultural revolutions can happen that quickly, but I wasn't quite clear whether the step change was really that dramatic - that the Enlightenment was almost a fad sweeping through the upper echelons of society - or whether the change was much more gradual.

Anyway, if you are seriously interested in the history of science this is an excellent text book, if a little too large to read comfortably in bed!

This entry was originally posted at http://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/74163.html.
wellinghallwellinghall on August 12th, 2012 04:30 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I will add it to my Amazon list!
Kargicqkargicq on August 12th, 2012 06:43 pm (UTC)
Unfortunately, it's gone out of print since the Open Uni course it accompanied ended; but it's still around second-hand.
wellinghallwellinghall on August 12th, 2012 07:01 pm (UTC)
Kargicqkargicq on August 12th, 2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I think it's extremely well written, and very balanced in its coverage of different sciences and geographical regions. I used bits of it with sixth-formers ("seniors") when I taught History of Science in the US for a while. Shame that it's gone out of print!

The step-change in the Early Modern Period was, I'm fairly sure, as sudden and dramatic as is presented here. Suddenly everyone (from the British Royal Family down) wanted to buy microscopes and telescopes. There was considerable ill-feeling from some authors that this new-fangled science business was treading on the toes of longer-established disciplines, resulting in widespread pamphletting and longer writing on both sides. (The subject of Swift's Battle of the Books and his Island of Laputa in Gulliver's Travels).

The size is really awkward, especially as it's never really used for large illustrations. A reprint in normal trade-paperback format is obviously needed.
louisedennislouisedennis on August 13th, 2012 08:35 am (UTC)
It's a useful reminder, I suppose, that we are not the first generation to witness some kind of sweeping change in the way people* live their lives. The scientific revolution was really more dramatic, even, than the information one since it was a radical change in the way people viewed the world.

*rich privileged people, obviously.