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Unique study of giants
on 8 August 2004
Bragg demonstrates how a "dabbler" in science can lead one more deeply into the research realm. Using his generalist background, he shows how anyone can appreciate what science can achieve and what it means to us all. A feeling of "being left out piqued his interest and he decided to seek out what he had missed. His technique is one any of us can follow - his interest was piqued by the growing number of works for the general reader. He didn't expect to become an "expert player", but through these works could at least be "at the game".
His study of fifteen key figures in science becomes a summation of what he garnered through reading and interviews. Bragg's long journalism career gave him an entry key and many insights in dealing with the "giants" and their interpreters. Having discovered several in this role, he has formulated a survey that will be valuable to many. Using a technique combining the interview with the works of good writers, he's created a readable, cogent overview of what science is and what it means. From Archimedes through Newton, Darwin and Curie to Watson and Crick you are given a variety of views of the key figures. The importance of each is stated clearly, mixed with what is known of their characters and background.
In his conclusion, titled "Where Are We Now?", Bragg makes an excellent summary of the impact of these seminal thinkers. As an observer, he claims to have produced a "map" of scientific thinking. The map is incomplete, but evokes an image of science as a "human exercise intent on examining the meaning and purpose as much as the structure of life today". It's a fine summary conclusion to his outstanding effort to help bring science to anyone wishing to learn its values. The future, his interviewees stress, will be one of further, deeper discoveries. His "giants" are in reality the ideas they developed, not in any way the scientists themselves. From Newton's irascibility to Darwin's diffidence, all these figures retain a strongly variant human identity. If nothing else, this book imparts the idea that science belongs to us all and can be furthered by anyone interested enough to undertake investigating unanswered questions. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]