cover image The Oxford Illustrated History of Science

The Oxford Illustrated History of Science

Edited by Iwan Rhys Morus. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-19-966327-9

Morus (Shocking Bodies), professor of history at Aberystwyth University, gathers a fabulous series of essays from more than a dozen science historians that show science interacting with and being influenced by culture and society. It’s a complex, two-part study that leads off with a global history of science followed by a history of how science is done. The first half proceeds chronologically from ancient Greece to the European Enlightenment, emphasizing how scientific endeavor parallels the needs of local culture. Aspects of astronomy and mathematics, for example, were studied to find the date of Easter and the direction of Mecca. The thematically oriented second half examines how science was affected by changes in public sentiment, as seen in both the development of Darwinism and biological science and in the horrors of eugenics. More conceptually, the roots of 21st-century debates in physics reveal ongoing disputes over the nature of theory and experimental proof within science. Meanwhile, the creation of the atom bomb, which advanced scientific study yet fostered a deep suspicion of it, exposes rifts between scientists and the wider public. The collection closes with a look at how that very public has been introduced to science. Morus and company succeed in showing science as a product of human culture, not a phenomenon apart from it. Illus. (Aug.)