SHiPS Resource Center ||   BOOK BRIEF

reviewed: 6/95 Science, Technology and Society: A Historical Perspective. Martin Fichman. Kendall/Hunt. ISBN 0-8403-8621-4.

This rather plain, dull looking book would not entice part of its audience, students and non-professionals, to voluntarily pick t up. Too bad! There is a wealth of information that is presented in a manner that stimulates thoughtful reflection.

The author's first statement in the preface describes the focus of the book as a "historical introduction to the social context of modern science and technology." This is generally accomplished in the final four chapters of this seven chapter text. The initial chapters are a quick and selective overview of the three thousand years of science that precede the nineteenth century.

These first three chapters do accomplish their goal, which is to give the reader a brief review of the development of science. There are not only dates and events but also reasonable discussions of the changing philosophy of science. It is to the author's credit that he takes some of his precious room in the first chapter to review non-Western science in addition discussing briefly Greek and Medieval developments in science. The second chapter follows the traditional patterns of science through the Enlightenment. This chapter includes a short but good look at both alchemy and the phlogiston theory. Darwin and the steam engine share the focus of the third chapter, as they should for a discussion of science and technology in the nineteenth century. Clearly the major problem with covering three thousand years of science in three chapters is that there is a significant simplification of issues and many missed opportunities to explore exciting tangents. This is no reason to ignore this text because the author does an excellent job compressing the salient steps and problems. It is a surprisingly thorough review that opens many windows that can be exploited in class or as projects for the students. This quick tour may dazzle the first-time reader into thinking all the events are clear and predictable, but that is the price you have to pay to achieve reasonable coverage.

It is in the final four chapters that the reader finally encounters science, technology and society as a conceptual framework to science history. There is quite a lot of good historical information that is available here, but the emphasis is on issues rather than science. For instance, the work on nuclear science is a good review but the focus always returns to the problems that nuclear energy has generated. There are a wide range of other issues that are covered with various levels of detail from acid rain to biotechnology. Being a railroad buff, this reviewer found the five or so pages covering the development of the railroad system and its effects a nice break from the straight "science stuff."

This is a well written text with clear explanations. It would have made this a much more attractive to have some related drawings, pictures and diagrams. It would also help those readers who, at times, need some visual cues, not just words. The index is very useful and reasonably detailed. The author is to be congratulated for the extensive bibliography that appears to be up to date. Both of these features make this text very functional.

As an introduction to the history of science and technology, this book is very useful. Do not look for a narrow focus because this author works with a very broad pen. But it is easy to read and clear, which is all that you can ask of a survey text. It is worth a look if you have this type of need.

--Robert Seigman

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