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The Beginnings of Western Science: The European Scientific Tradition In Philosophical, Religious, And Institutional Context, Prehistory To A.D. 1450, Second Edition Paperback – 1 Apr 2008

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Product details

  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 2nd Revised edition edition (11 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226482057
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226482057
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 277,255 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"As entertaining and educational as that organized by the best tour operator." - Charles Burnett, New York Times Book Review "Solidly based on a competent knowledge of a huge variety of primary sources and secondary studies, engagingly written, and well produced, it provides us for the first time with an authoritative account of Western science from its beginnings to the height of medieval scientific achievement." - Richard C. Dales, American Historical Review"

About the Author

David C. Lindberg is the Hilldale Professor Emeritus of the History of Science at the University of Wisconsin - Madison and former president of the History of Science Society. He is the author or editor of many books, including, with coeditor Ronald L. Numbers, When Science and Christianity Meet, also published by the University of Chicago Press.

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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Luonnotar on 29 April 2012
Format: Paperback
This is a very good guide to western scientific thought up to 1450. The chapters on ancient Greece and the European Middle Ages are very good and give a lot of detailed information about developments during those times. There is however only one Chapter on Arab science, which I felt was not enough. The book does debunk the myth that there was no progress during the Middle Ages, though. All in all, this book can be recommended.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 24 reviews
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
First Rate Survey 31 Jan. 2009
By R. Albin - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a first rate survey of Western science from the Classical period to the eve of the Scientific Revolution. Arranged chronologically, Lindberg summarizes an immense amount of scholarly literature in a very well written text. Lindberg makes a consistent and successful effort to avoid anachronistically looking back at developments of the point of view the emergence of modern science. History of science is presented here with a strong effort to situate it in the context of contemporary intellectual and general history. Lindberg deals also with some historiographic issues related to prior interpretations of history of science. This is all quite difficult to do in a survey book and Lindberg carries this off very, very well. Each chronological period has a discussion of major developments and enough general history to make the context intelligible. Topics of greatest significance, such as Aristotle's system or Medieval physics, get excellent coverage. Some persistent themes are the importance of the Aristotelian system, the interaction between Platonic and Aristotelian ideas, the complex interaction between the Classical heritage and Christianity, the particular importance of the Islamic world as the heir and transmitter of Classical knowledge, and the importance of mathematical concepts. Lindberg does very well as showing the achievements of Classical and Medieval science while discussing why its underlying assumptions were different from the modern science that emerges in the 17th century. The footnotes and bibliography are excellent and constructed with an eye to providing a good guide into the literature for interested readers. This book is a real nice combination of informed scholarship and pedagogy.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
An excellent survey overall -- with occasional lack of detail 4 Oct. 2009
By Michael Willers - Published on
Format: Paperback
David Lindberg has without doubt successfully accomplished what he endeavored to do: write an excellent survey of the history of science in the ancient world and the Middle Ages. In fact, his was the only book I could find out there that covered this topic well -- it is a small corner of an esoteric field, to be sure, but an immensely interesting one nonetheless!

Lindberg's book is beautiful in its writing, far-reaching in its expanse, and cohesive in its coverage of the themes of the history of science. He writes in a manner that is scholarly yet friendly, even casual at times. His brush is a broad one the paints the big picture of how the ancient thinkers (the Greeks in particular, and to a lesser extent the Babylonians and the Romans) and the medieval philosophers -- both Christian and Muslim -- viewed the natural world around them. Lindberg does everyone justice, insisting time and again -- as he should -- that "science" thousands of years ago should not be compared to what we think of as "science" today, if only because the ancient and medieval thinkers asked questions about their world that were so fundamentally different from the ones we ask about ours. The book particularly shines when discussing Aristotle, the Muslim scholars and the Scholastics, true high points in the book. Lindberg successfully connects and relates the overarching themes in the history of science, making the book an immensely interesting and comprehensible work.

Though in painting with broad strokes Lindberg paints a fantastic big picture, in doing so he sacrifices detail. For example, the book, except for a few notable instances, is rather devoid of details about individual thinkers, and the reader learns little about their lives or the world in which they lived. In addition, the book is organized around themes within the history of science, and so little attention is paid to chronology, leaving the reader at times to flounder without direction in the stream of history. Understandably, if these issues had been addressed, then the book would have been massive, and would have lost its charm as the "big picture" survey of history of science that it is.

I have not come across a work that addresses the central problems of early history of science so marvelously as Lindberg's does. Incidentally, this book is complemented wonderfully by an audio course from the Teaching Company, "The History of Science: Antiquity to 1700," by Lawrence Principe. With these two works, you will feel fully immersed in scientific thinking of the time.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Part of the new understanding of the Middle Ages 2 Aug. 2012
By Grimmy - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is one of several books that serve as a corrective to the popular myth that the fall of Rome was followed by the "Dark Ages." In this book, the development of modern science is traced from pre-history through the classical period (Greece and Rome) and afterward. Discoveries and the transmission of learning after the fall of Rome in Islamic lands and in the West is covered in readable detail.

Unlike similar books, the author does not wish to address why science withered away in Islam, instead wanting to end that section on a positive note (something to the effect that we should instead be amazed at how long it lasted). It is also rather more detailed tour on the thought and discoveries of the "ancients".

For anyone who has been steeped in the mythology that the history of scientific progress was Greece/Rome, the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment, this book (and/or the others listed below) should be required reading. That would cover mostly anyone educated in our colleges and high schools in the last fifty years.

Other books in this vein worth reading: The Genesis of Science: How the Christian Middle Ages Launched the Scientific Revolution, Intellectual Curiosity and the Scientific Revolution: A Global Perspective, The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts (Cambridge Studies in the History of Science).
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
First Rate - coherent and well focused - 5 Stars 24 Mar. 2011
By John S. - Published on
Format: Paperback
This is a very good book. While the book is a survey covering about 2000 years of science, I did not feel that I was getting only a brief glimpse of the story. Rather, I found the presentation to be very coherent and well focused. It covers not only Western Science of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, but also much earlier Greek Science and how this shaped later Western Science. It covers the ideas concerning the cosmos, atoms, nature, mathematics, kinematics and medicine. This coverage is much more than just a description of the science mentioned above, but it also stresses how earlier scientific endeavors influenced that which followed. The book devotes a considerable amount of space to Islamic science, not only in the sense that preserved and commented on the earlier Greek science, but also covers the original contributions that were made.

I particularly liked the discussion of how the early Greek ideas of the cosmos evolved into the later ideas of the Renaissance and how the ideas of matter also evolved. There is also a nice discussion of the Astrolabe, including expanded drawings of its parts. The reader should be reminded, however, that the book only covers science up to about 1450, so there is no detailed discussion of the work of Copernicus, Gallelo or Newton, although all three are mentioned.

The writing is generally clear and written in a very accessible style - one that is quite suitable for a general reader as well as a specialist. The book contains 6 maps and over 100 drawings.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
enjoyable to read, useful generalizations and fascinating details 3 Aug. 2010
By Francesc - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book becomes essential for students, and anyone interested, to get a picture of the development of scientific thinking in Europe. Lindberg shows mastery in reasoning from the particular to the general and viceversa. Although the book focuses on western science, it does not forget to mention the great influences from the islamic world. This is a must-read in history of science.
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