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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful synthesis. Sweeping coverage
What's the big picture for history of science and technology in the 20thC? Many surveys simply list events descriptively in long chains. Agar works to build a synthesis. Along the way he develops a general model for "working worlds" as a new way to think organise our thinking about the work. Good international coverage. Also good balance of technical,...
Published 9 months ago by ProfJoeCain

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3.0 out of 5 stars Really nice
IMy Husband is really into this subject and was very pleased to get it. He said it was a very good over view of a very complex subject and it lacked pictures but overall a very inciteful and enjoyable book.
Published on 18 Aug 2012 by L. E. Cooper


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5.0 out of 5 stars Thoughtful synthesis. Sweeping coverage, 10 Feb 2014
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What's the big picture for history of science and technology in the 20thC? Many surveys simply list events descriptively in long chains. Agar works to build a synthesis. Along the way he develops a general model for "working worlds" as a new way to think organise our thinking about the work. Good international coverage. Also good balance of technical, biographical, and wider context.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Really nice, 18 Aug 2012
By 
L. E. Cooper "Lindsey" (UK) - See all my reviews
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IMy Husband is really into this subject and was very pleased to get it. He said it was a very good over view of a very complex subject and it lacked pictures but overall a very inciteful and enjoyable book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Good intro to a dull subject, 13 Aug 2012
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This book bravely tackles what I usually find a dull subject. The
history of science is no doubt important but seeing as science is
largely 'cutting edge' I have always found it less than interesting.
Thankfully Jon Agar manages to make this task bearable by keeping a
respectful balance of science and biography combined with a very
readable writing style. All in all it gives a thorough overview of the
role that science has played throughout the 20th century - essentially
it does what it says on the cover!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Taking apart science for inspection, 27 April 2012
By 
Dr. Delvis Memphistopheles "FIST" (London) - See all my reviews
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Not a book to be digested, from a-z, as it carries a large intellectual weight and needs to be reflected upon. This incorporates a big sweep, as it takes apart the mechanical worlds of science, to inspect its inner workings. Science is perceived as a successful belief system, that over turned religion whilst taking many of its basic concepts and then reforming them. Science rests upon belief and adherents.

Faith in a higher realm becomes recast into becoming value free. The first lesson a scientist undergoes is to learn to lie to (him) self before he lies with consistency to others. The magic conjuring trick of becoming value free is something both Nietzsche and Feyerabend dissected as ultimately a charade. To become value free needs a yard stick to measure this slight of hand by and the faithful with their slack jaws and rolling eyes provide it. After all if you have invested your life in this belief system you would not want the boat to rock, would you?

Science only regualtes itself, according to its own faith systems, hence its similarity to religion, replete with zealots, prosletisers and the ever faithful flock.

The chapter on National Socialist science is the first one I read, knowing something but not being an expert. There are considerable insights revealed within this book, as the National Socialists wedded their crumbling ideology to rational science, whilst also attempting to cleave away anything that connected their version of science to Einstein.

Far from being scientific negators, National Socialism was a creed which based itself on the science of eugenics to create a mystical notion of volk. Both were faith built systems as the author traces how national socialist idealogues pumped huge amounts of money into trying to prove its a priori faith. Meanwhile it also gave money to rocket development and weaponry, creating the means to enact world war two with vigour. Science was used to promote mysticism in the social science realms, whilst hard science benefited from people and war material.

Science was complicit within both world wars, as both a philsophical backdrop and through providing the technical means to create the carnage. Whilst viewed as a constant productive force, liberating man from superstition, science also enslaves man within its concepts of a mechanical clock world, reducing the vibrancy of people to its preconceived faith. Reducing humans to machines allows the autistic type to gain hegemony within this world, a revenge position to claim an ascendancy for their troubled past.

This book looks at both polarities and has some new facets to offer those interested in the history of science, and how it has been constructed. It looks at the Cold War and beyond, showing how science interacts with politics, philosophy, culture and the other facets of modernity to produce its version of reality.

It exposes the belief system for what it is, a mass hallucination needing believers for it to become real. All hail the new nihilism!
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Overview of a Very Large Subject., 17 May 2012
By 
Bruce "from Brighton" (UK - England) - See all my reviews
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This is a very large and imposing book - over 500 pages of densely-packed information. But it is comprehensive and interesting, even if the subject and the text-only presentation might seem dry to some.

Although the 20th Century has seen massive and rapid growth in science, there will be periods within this book that are more interesting to some people than others. Some for example, might find the war years "exciting" as a period of rapid arms development and the bizarre experiments of the Nazis in their desparation to find an advantage. But the book is well organised into 20 chapters with clear indexes, which enable you to look up any particular aspects, so it is something that you can dip into and it's not essential to follow through sequentially.

Jon Agar's big idea is that after the 19th Century, Science became dominated by "working worlds" and these are what drove progress in these fields. In previous centuries, there may have been individuals who advanced our knowledge through experimentation, out of curiosity, or a personal interest. By the 20th Century though, Agar argues that Science was solving the problems of "work" - how do we make our working lives more efficient, safer - how do we communicate, how do we win wars etc. ?

This may seem an obvious point, but it allows the book to be divided up into these "working worlds" of transport, power and lighting,communication,agriculture, computers, the armed forces etc. This makes the book less daunting and allows you to look at aspects that interest you and also to make sense of what has become a very large subject. If you are not that interested in advances in medicine for example, but are fascinated by Quantum theory, then it is possible to pick and choose easily.

The book is written simply enough for virtually any reader to grasp and requires no prior knowledge of what at times, are very complex subjects. It is up to date and gets as far as recent media debates on the Large Hadron Collider. Given the massive scope of this study, some complex subjects are given very little space. But it's an enjoyable and informative overview, which can be a jumping-off point to more detailed works on subjects that you may decide to explore further.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A masterpiece of research and communication, 17 May 2012
By 
RJP the Book Boy "Book boy" (UK) - See all my reviews
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Science in the 20th Century and Beyond (PHSS - Polity History of Science series) (Hardcover)

Overview

This is an amazing book as it succeeds in what it set out to do, cover the achievements of all branches of science in one volume. Jon Agar has done a splendid job and the book encompasses everything that has happened in science in the twentieth century. It is a one stop reference for scientists or a really good read about the developments in science for everyone else, it's a book I will use over and over again.

The books scope

The book can be used as a 'story of twentieth century science' or as a reference book to find out who did what and when. It works well on both levels. The language used is quite formal but everything is explained well so that people without science backgrounds can get into the book with perhaps a little work. I do have a science background but really enjoyed reading this book and I did learn lots of new facts and had many new insights into the work and lives of many scientists.

Research

This book has been researched in depth and I could not find anything missing at my level (a university lecturer in science). The references and index in the book are very comprehensive and the book opens doors to anyone who wants to find out more. Every quote is referenced in the text so it is easy to get to the papers read in the research. This is where, for me anyway, the book scores very highly as it can take you right to the source and depth of the material.

Structure

The book is well structured and covers maths, physics, chemistry, biology and computing and at the same time brings in specialisations within each branch, for example quantum physics and microbiology. It is an exercise in how to organise your thoughts and logic. This is a book you can read and also dip into and come away feeling satisfied and enlightened. The effects of politics, beliefs and global influences on the thinking of the time are beautifully explored without being biased in anyway.

Overall

This is a well researched and structured comment on science in the twentieth century. The book succeeds on all levels by delivering a coherent, well written account that is accessible to any reader with or without a science background. Highly recommended, a milestone in its own right and should be on every enquiring minds reading list.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating., 12 May 2012
By 
Beanie Luck (Cotswolds) - See all my reviews
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This book is aimed at the more serious reader i think.

It is very indepth, very detailed, there are no childish illustrations and the text is well written, well placed out and to be honest, really fascinating.

I sat down and read this and learnt so much about scientific breakthroughs that i didnt realise that had ever happened. I also found certain chapters quite intriguing and me and my partner sat down and had some very interesting debates about some of the pieces written.

I think that this would make a brilliant present for any young person that is interested in science at school or is undertaking a science degree at college or university.

I found it thoroughly engaging.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A milestone on a long journey of human understanding, 22 Jan 2013
By 
M. Williams "Matt Williams" (Essex, England) - See all my reviews
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The photo of a nuclear blast on the cover gives a clue that Jon Agar believes warfare to be a major factor in shaping the scientific world that we know today.

Conceptually Agar develops the idea of "working worlds" which are a way of categorising the different fields of human endeavour in much the same way, he says, as the way the structure of a city becomes apparent at night as it becomes illuminated by artificial light.

Agar talks about the USA being the leading scientific power of the Twentieth Century, the missing stories and the move from physical to life sciences in the latter half of the Twentieth Century.

This is a big book with an epic scope and feels to me like a substantial part of the jigsaw puzzle of our understanding of the Twentieth Century. The author's decision to focus on particular areas, especially those relating to conflict, and the very appropriate references to other source material lend a feeling that this is a milestone on a long journey of human understanding.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good reference book, 17 Dec 2012
By 
Matthew H "Matthew H" (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
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This is an excellent read, full of excellent information, covering all aspects of 20th century science. However, there are so many varying topics, the book doesn't hold together quite so well as it should. Therefore, I see this book as more of a reference to dip into when one wants to reinforce one's knowledge on all things scientific. In this role I can't fail to give it top marks for it has helped me on a number of occasions.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Scholarly and educational if a little reserved, 20 Sep 2012
By 
bomble "bomble" (Cambridge, UK) - See all my reviews
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First, I'd like to ask if there's any kind of badge or medal given to a person who has read this hefty tome from cover to cover? I actually feel a genuine sense of accomplishment in finishing this book. To frame my review, I should state that I am scientifically trained and working as a systems engineer. As such, I find myself very much a part of one of the many working worlds that Agar attempts to explain, and one (satellite communications) that owes its origins to the war-time technological advances of the 20th century. I also love to read lay science books covering a broad array of subjects including life sciences, scientific history and multidisciplinary works (In recent months I've read and reviewed books such as Here on Earth, Wired for Culture, Sightlines, Willpower, Henrietta Lacks, The Geek Manifesto, Wood, The Warming Papers and Emperor of all Maladies). So it's fair to say that I had high expectations of a book that hoped to tackle such a massive challenge.

So, how did Agar do? Well, first I should state that this book feels like - and most probably was written to be - a primer for a history of science lecture series. It does not read like a popular science account where one aim is to bring a story to life; to infuse with enthusiasm. Agar takes a much more clinical stance, observing, collating and stringing together academic themes and cultural threads along the way. That's not to say that the book is lifeless or lacking in any personality. It's just that it is very reserved and scholarly. Interestingly, I listened to a 30 minute podcast by the author after I had finished the book and realised that the book does reflect Agar's personality (at least what he allows to reveal in the interview) - it's just that his personality is reserved and scholarly!

Understanding this style choice, the book is an impressive success in my opinion. I learned a great deal in reading it; saw many familiar scientific results and theories with a new perspective and ultimately agree broadly with many of Agars conclusions. Science really does seem to be the product of the working worlds he describes and seeing 11 decades of it laid out on the table makes the development of the scientific landscape into what we know today make much more sense. Unfortunately the book won't get widely read unless it's on a compulsory reading list for history of science students. It just isn't appealing enough to overcome the barriers to popular readership. For one thing it's a heavy beast at 530 content-rich pages; for another the best parts for me were buried in the midst (chapters on WWII and Cold War Science are particularly interesting and more enthusiastically penned from what I can tell). That's a shame really, as I know that my future reading will benefit from having laid down this solid foundation.
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