The History of Science in the Nineteenth Century

The History of Science in the Nineteenth Century
by Ray Spangenburg and Diane K. Moser

(Illus.; from the On the Shoulders of Giants series)
Facts on File, Inc.
Glossary; Index
YA **


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This latest addition to the On the Shoulders of Giants series tackles 19th-century European science in under 140 pages. It takes the "great men" (and a few women) approach often maligned by historians of science, but quite excellent for its audience. (The vocabulary is about 11th or 12th grade; the style is a bit younger.) The prologue states that, while one may get the impression in the history of science that "one discovery lead[s] smoothly to another," in fact, "science moves by fits and starts." The authors do show the latter, though they can do little to convince the reader in such few pages. There are some inconsistencies: Leucippus gets a pronunciation guide in the text, while Whewell doesn't. And horror of horrors, the introduction (p. xv) speaks of "principles explaining the origin of the [sic] species"! Overall, however, the balance is excellent, with the physical sciences properly emphasized (Dalton, Faraday, Maxwell, Lyell, etc.) and the biological sciences less so (Darwin, Wallace, Pasteur, etc.); this is an appropriate balance, given the "great men" approach and number of pages in the book. A generally excellent set of appendices is available (with four pages on scientific method; a table of elements; a chronology of major events, discoveries, publications, etc., from 1800 to 1898; but a totally insufficient glossary). An intriguing set of further readings is provided, but is quite unbalanced. (Faraday and Maxwell, for instance, are set off separately from the rest of the physical sciences section; Darwin and evolution get a section, but none exists for the biological sciences overall.) Even with these shortcomings, this book is still more than suitable for secondary school readers (though no younger) and could supplement a good general science course; indeed, it should probably be required reading.

--Reviewed by Donald J. McCraw in Science Books and Films, 30/5 (June/July 1994), p. 141.