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The History of Modern Science: A Guide to the Second Scientific Revolution, 1800-1950. Stephen G. Brush. Iowa State Univ. Press (1988). ISBN 0-8138-0883-9. $41.95 cloth.
Comprehensive. Brush has assembled a comprehensive guide to studying major developments in science from roughly the emergence of professional scientists (around the turn of the 19th century) to well into this century. During this period, the mechanistic, deterministic world view introduced by Newton, Descartes, Boyle (etc.) in the "First" Scientific Revolution, was gradually undermined by discoveries in thermodynamics, evolutionary biology, psychology and nuclear physics. Brush calls this the Second Scientific Revolution.
The volume is fashioned mostly for someone organizing a history of science course, but its contents and organization make it indispensable for the teacher serious about understanding the origins of modern scientific concepts and for reading about them more fully from high-quality sources. In fact, as the subtitle suggests, it is more a guide than an authentic history. The history is provided in brief synopses, designed to make sense of developments in a particular field or around certain key concepts. Brush covers the ground very fast. These sketches are the framework for the primary emphasis: an extensive listing of specific historical sources. Brush kindly addresses the non-specialist by focusing on books and periodicals that are more widely available and easily readable. Also, this is a book more in essay format, useful for longer-term organizing and planning: do not expect the index to give you information and ready references to use in class the next day.
The book is decidedly selective in the topics it addresses--omitting, for example, the histories of the periodic table and of cell theory (which are readily available elsewhere). The main strength of the book, however, is precisely this alternative organization. Brush emphasizes what Gerald Holton has called themata--general concepts that permeate numerous fields: concepts such as atomism (reduction into particulate units), evolution (dynamic unfolding), randomness (or indeterminism), and energy (a "kinetic worldview"). As described and organized by Brush (see esp. the 14-page survey in Chap. 1), these themata form important interdisciplinary threads. For example, they help place anthropology, psychology and statistics, say, in the conventional contexts of chemistry, astronomy and paleontology. Departments trying to develop a program that integrates their biology, chemistry, physics and earth science classes will find many valuable clues here. The themata are also important to general history teachers, who will find the origins of significant social ideas--say, about the origin of man and cultures; the physical nature of the mind; or the modern role of quantification.
The chapters are organized to highlight these themes, and are worth listing here: Evolution; Evolution of Races and Cultures; Gender and Genetics; Freud and Psychoanalyis; Behavior and Intelligence; Atoms, Energy and Statistics; Electromagnetism and Relativity; Atomic Structure; The Explosion of Physics; and Astronomy in the 19th and 20th Centuries, respectively. As the chapter titles indicate, Brush makes occasional excursions into several significant sub-topics, such as the history of the IQ test, science and politics after the bomb, and questions of gender in science.
The volume is largely an annotated outline. Nevertheless, Brush also comments on the ways we think about the past. He carefully exposes common prejudices about history--and, indeed, about many scientific theories. He also devotes one chapter to philosophical and social perspectives, giving the novice a whirlwind tour of the variety of approaches now used to viewing the practice of science.
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