- Hardcover: 784 pages
- Publisher: Harper (8 December 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 006175952X
- ISBN-13: 978-0061759529
- Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 4.7 x 22.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #5,85,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution Hardcover – 8 Dec 2015
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“Wootton is a dazzling explicator of difficult ideas whose relish for his material is evident.” (Matthew Price, the Boston Globe)
“Wootton tells his tales well and portrays characters vividly. He writes with wit, and his book is full of surprises.” (Robert P. Crease, The Wall Street Journal)
“A masterly account of the ‘scientific revolution.’” (Financial Times' Best Books of 2015)
“New, encyclopedic history.” (Adam Gopnik, the New Yorker)
“Full of insights…even jaded scholars will find it fresh and compelling.” (The Economist)
“…perceptive, thought-provoking, deeply erudite and beautifully written.” (Nature)
“Vibrant and impressive…The Invention of Science is a marvel of expositional clarity” (Steve Donoghue, The Christian Science Monitor)
“Not only a history of science but a revisionist historiography of science” (Steven Poole, The New Statesman)
“A big bang moment” (Lorraine Daston, The Guardian)
“Extremely well researched and documented…This is bound to become a basic reference in the future.” (Adhemar Bultheel, the European Mathematical Society)
“A bracing rediscovery of the marvel that is science” (Booklist, starred review)
“David Wootton’s The Invention of Science is outstanding. It details how, when and why the philosophical, intellectual and practical frameworks of modern science arose, and it sees off relativism in the process. While dealing wonderfully in broad sweeps, it offers a wealth of entertaining details.” (Richard Joyner, Times Higher Education)
“Fascinating and original … Wootton is a marvellous writer with an enviously encyclopaedic knowledge, and he has exciting things to say … a stimulating, well-informed and imaginative account.” (Patricia Fara, Literary Review)
“A superbly lucid examination of a dramatic revolution in human thought that deserves a place on the shelf with Thomas Kuhn and David Deutsch.” (Kirkus Starred Review)
From the Back Cover
We live in a world made by science. How and when did this happen? The Invention of Science tells the story of the extraordinary intellectual and cultural revolution that gave birth to modern science, and mounts a major challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of its history.
Before 1492, all significant knowledge was believed to be already available; there was no concept of progress, as people looked to the past, not the future, for understanding. David Wootton argues that the discovery of America demonstrated that new knowledge was possible: indeed, it introduced the very concept of discovery and opened the way to the invention of science.
The first crucial discovery was Tycho Brahe’s nova of 1572: proof that there could be change in the heavens. The invention of the telescope in 1608 rendered the old astronomy obsolete. Evangelista Torricelli’s experiment with the vacuum in 1643 led directly to the triumph of the experimental method in the Royal Society of Robert Boyle and Isaac Newton. By 1750, Newtonianism was being celebrated throughout Europe.
This new science did not consist simply of new discoveries or methods. It relied on a new understanding of what knowledge may be, and with this came a fresh language: discovery, progress, fact, experiment, hypothesis, theory, laws of nature. Although almost all these terms existed before 1492, their meanings were radically transformed, and they became tools to think scientifically. Now we all speak this language of science that was invented during the Scientific Revolution.
This revolution had its martyrs (Bruno, Galileo), its heroes (Kepler, Boyle), its propagandists (Voltaire, Diderot), and its patient laborers (Gilbert, Hooke). The new culture led to a new rationalism, killing off alchemy, astrology, and the belief in witchcraft. It also led to the invention of the steam engine and to the first Industrial Revolution. Wootton’s landmark work changes our understanding of how this great transformation came about, and of what science is.See all Product description
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Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The thesis of the book is that there could be no scientific revolution without a conception (or a new conception) of key scientific ideas (scientific ‘law’, an ‘experiment’, and so on). He traces the latter at length and the research is impressive in its scope and erudition. Much of the argument is ‘linguistic’, broadly considered. He tracks the first appearance of words, the nuances in meaning as the same word is translated/interpreted across multiple European languages; the frequency of appearance of certain words in a particular text or related series of texts, and so on.
As he reaches his conclusion we can hear the voices in his head. Much of the argument has been developed with history-of-science ideology hovering in the background. Postmodern historians have argued for the constructedness of science and scientific ideas, denying the realism that characterized much former work and opting instead for relativism. Wootton wends his way through this debate which, we realize, has been haunting him from the get-go. He opts for a via media between realism and relativism, giving each their due but not giving ground on the fact that science actually works. Even when it is wrong it can work. Even when it is partial it can work. Even when it is outdated and superseded it can work. His argument is very much like George Steiner’s (in Real Presences). Science is not absolute but it is very, very special.
The high points for me come when Wootton stakes out a position and defends it in the face of academic fashion. When he strikes he strikes hard: “Concealed within relativism there thus lies a dream of omnipotence, a fantasy recompense, perhaps, for the impotence and irrelevance of academic life” (p. 555).
The apparatus includes footnotes, endnotes, the bibliography, and some longer notes in which he takes on such weighty subjects as Wittgenstein’s perceived relativism (which Wootton denies).
This is a big book; reading it represents a commitment, but a commitment that is fully repaid.
In addition, Mr. Wootton has the clearest rebuttal to the 'Relativist's interpretation' of Thomas Kuhn's 'scientific revolutions that there are no 'killer facts' that can clearly determine which of two 'paradigms' is 'better'. The telescopic discovery of the 'phases of the planet Venus' clearly drove a stake through the heart of 'Ptolemy's Geocentric Paradigm'. Unfortunately of Galileo, Brahe had invented a 'middle way' by then that could not be so easily dismissed by that 'fact'.
The writing is not dense (though the facts sometimes are). This book makes a valuable addition to the library of any historian of science interested in the beginnings of the early European science.