Monday, April 2, 2018

The Story of Western Science

The Story of Western Science: From Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory, by Susan Wise Bauer

Did you ever want to thoroughly educate yourself in the history of science?  Well, this is your book!  Some years ago, my guru SWB wrote a how-to book, The Well-Educated Mind, about giving yourself a classical education in the humanities, with chronological sections on drama, poetry, history, autobiography, and fiction.  This is a similar book, except it takes you through the history of science.

We start with the ancient Greeks and other early thinkers, move forward to the development of the scientific method, and then into sections that concentrate on the development of (respectively) geology, biology, and cosmology.  Each section is broken into chapters that explain the ideas and the thinkers, and end with recommendations on what to read.  This is a historical perspective, so she's recommending Aristotle's Physics and History of Animals, Ptolemy's Almagest, and so on right through James Gleick on chaos theory.  If you quail at the thought of reading all of Copernicus' Commentariolus, she'll point you to the most salient sections, and she has links to all the difficult-to-find (but copyright-free) texts.

Where SWB is really, really good is in taking some massive chunk of history and distilling it down to a coherent narrative, in which she highlights important developments and explains their significance.  She is a brilliant synthesizer, which is probably why CNN asked her to appear on their new series about the Pope.  There are not a lot of historians like that around right now, and she really stands out as an unusual writer and historian.

I actually had a wonderful opportunity recently to meet my guru!  She doesn't do a lot of speaking at conferences these days, but she has been doing some visits for her new book, Rethinking School, and somebody got her to Sacramento.  I took the day off work and drove down.  The first talk was her basic talk on classical education, which I know pretty much by heart, having listened to it many times on CD, and the second one was about Rethinking School and it was fantastic; everybody should listen to it.  (If your kid is having difficulty fitting into the school system, this is the book for you.  Read it now.)  So I got to meet her, be embarrassingly fangirly, and ask some questions!  Eeek!  It was great.  She was lovely.


Kristen M. said...

That cover just makes you want to learn about science!

Jean said...

I know, right? It's a gorgeous cover.