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Genius of Britain Hardcover – 27 May 2010
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About the Author
Robert Uhlig is the technology correspondent of the "Daily Telegraph." Richard Dawkins is the author of "The God Delusion" and" The Selfish Gene." James Dyson is the author of "Against the Odds." Stephen Hawking is the author of "A Brief History of Time" and "The Universe in a Nutshell."
Top customer reviews
This book attempts to cover a vast amount of history in a little over 300 pages, and was never going to `break boundaries'. What it does accomplish however is a succinct and nicely presented synopsis of some truly astonishing scientific discoveries that go a long way to confirming Britain as an undisputed giant in the history of science. Depending on what you want from this book will definitely depend on what you think of it. In the recent months I have read several more detailed scientific history books, namely: Richard Holmes' Age of Wonder (a highly detailed look at the period between Banks and the Endeavour up to Darwin - roughly 1750-1850); Manjit Kumar's excellent Quantum (looking at the atomic age in the early part of the 20th Century); as well as Brian Greene's The Elegant Universe (a highly involved look at modern day String Theory leading on from the work of Einstein and Hawking). Each of these books would form the next logical step for the reader who found a point of interest in Genius. That's what this book is so fantastic for, at times I felt like I was revising what I knew, but to someone fostering an interest in science they could pick out the areas of interest in this short punchy book and from there focus their interest, whether that be on an individual or on a specific field. As you would expect all the main British characters are covered, and from what I saw of the series it runs directly in parallel.
To the adult this book is ideally suited as an overview or introduction to science but also serves well as a point of reference. There are however things to be learnt, interesting anecdotes, and (at the risk of sounding clichéd) something for everybody: it's like a book of `science things you should know'. I see this book as being perfect for a well educated and scientifically passionate child (say, aged 15-19) who wants to know a little more about the origins of science i.e. the Boyles, the Hookes, and the Newtons who lend their names to the curriculum equations, laws, and units. Fundamentally the TV series is designed to appeal to a wide audience, not patronising and not alienating with complexity: the book very much continues with this theme.
In terms of Uhlig's writing style I think it's fair to say this book `accompanies a series'. It does, at times, feel a little cobbled together and `clunky', but because of the nature of the book it is barely noticeable. The discoveries and personalities come at you so thick and fast that there is barely time to get caught up in the way the book reads. Periodic interjections by the scientific faces portrayed on the front of the book break up the text nicely and add further credence to my earlier assertion that the book would be well suited to an older child or casual reader that may find turgid pages of text off putting. In short this book sits somewhere between a comprehensive 'history of' tome and an A-level textbook.
His first chapter sets the scene by introducing Bede's work of about 723 `On Reckoning of Time' and the foreign influences that preceded it. He then goes on to talk about for example Roger Bacon's attempt in about 1264 to provide a rational empirical explanation of natural phenomena and Francis Bacon's concept of the experimental scientific method which displaced the Aristotelian principle of reasoning by deduction. He does this before he reaches Wren, Hooke, Newton & the other scientists covered by the TV programmes.
Uhlig covers all the scientists described in the TV series but provides more information on many of them, for example Henry Cavendish's weighing the world and discovery of nitrogen, plus James Watt's development of the true steam pressure engine. James Dyson's TV story of Watt's development of the separate condenser for the Newcomen's vacuum engine had led me to believe that someone else had gone on to develop the true steam pressure engine - Uhlig clarifies that it was in fact Watt & his team. The author also talks about other important British scientists omitted by the programmes such as John Dalton & Humphrey Davy.
The book finishes in about 2000, pretty much where Stephen Hawking's team does, for example with Bill Hamilton's gene studies and the work on the human genome. At the back there is a very useful list of key dates in British science.
I found this book informative & well written: at least 4 stars.
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