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5.0 out of 5 stars The history of science in the 19th century, 7 Jun 2010
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This review is from: The Making of Modern Science: Science, Technology, Medicine and Modernity: 1789-1914 (PHSS - Polity History of Science series) (Paperback)
The Making of Modern Science by David Knight, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK, 2009, 384 ff.

The history of science in the nineteenth century
By Howard Jones

The author of this book is an Emeritus Professor of History and Philosophy of Science at Durham University so, as a historian, he writes with authority of some of the social and technological consequences of the scientific discoveries made during the 19th century and changes in the public attitude towards science during this period. Indeed, there was no such thing as a `scientist' until 1833, when the word first appeared (The OED gives the date as 1840). Previously it was a hobby pursued by dilettantes but in the 19th century it became a respected profession. Knight explains how gifted individuals who formerly would have turned to law, medicine or the church as a profession now decided to investigate the natural world for their living.

This was the age when the different disciplines within science developed, but no sooner had they done so than connections between the scientific areas were sought and found - Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell uniting electricity and magnetism, Benjamin Thomson (Count Rumford) forging links between heat energy and mechanical work and, early in the following century, Albert Einstein showing the relation between matter and energy.

Something of the shock waves experienced by the religiously devout when the ideas of Charles Lyell in geology and Charles Darwin in biology were published is described but there seemed to be as many supporters as detractors for the new ideas. Other scientific revolutions included Edward Jenner's discovery of vaccination, Louis Pasteur's germ theory and Alexander Fleming's subsequent discovery of antibiotics, the introduction of anaesthetics for life-saving surgery, and the technological advances in public health. In Knight's view, these may have done more than the discoveries of Lyell or Darwin to alter religious viewpoints, as the extended life-span of both young and old was now to some extent under human control and not totally subject to the will of an unfathomable God. Crucially, science now became the arbiter of truth rather than scripture.

This is an excellent book - detailed, scholarly and academic, well researched and eloquently written but I suspect that general readers will find the level of writing rather heavy going unless they are specifically interested in how science developed during the 19th century. Now that the history of science has virtually disappeared from secondary school syllabuses under the weight of the new topics added, for those of us who teach science the book presents a fascinating story.

Dr Howard A. Jones is the author of The Thoughtful Guide to God (2006) and The Tao of Holism (2008), both published by O Books of Winchester, UK.

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