cover image The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution

The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution

David Wootton. Harper, $29.99 (768p) ISBN 978-0-06-175952-9

This substantive narrative of human progress is engaging and well constructed for the general science or history reader. Wootton (Galileo: Watcher of the Skies), professor of history at the University of York, makes a powerful, though currently unpopular, case against a Wittgensteinian historical relativism that sees science as entirely a social construct, changing gradually and continuously since antiquity. Wootton argues instead for viewing the period between 1572 and 1704 as a scientific revolution in a true sense, during which multiple strands of thought, technology, and culture came together in unexpected ways to transform human understanding of the physical world—the “triumph of Newtonianism,” which still informs modern research and dialogue. Analysis of primary texts from key philosophers as well as chronological details of their development and use of instrumentation sit beside broader-reaching approaches that explore linguistic change over time, how perspective-drawing techniques influenced astronomy, the ways the printing press helped form critical communities, and social analyses of the “mathematization of nature” and the decline of the appeal to authority, among other topics. Wootton’s arguments stand effectively on their own, making the final chapters directed at his historian colleagues feel like bloated academic infighting. Illus. (Dec.)