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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
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VINE VOICEon 13 April 2008
Having read Gribbin's Science and Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything in the last few months its interesting to contrast the two, which are approximately the same length.

Gribbin firstly is a professional scientist and Bryson a popularist. Unsurprisingly then Gribbin's book has the more authoritative air about it. However Bryson's is undoubtedly more entertaining and is packed with fascinating facts, continuing to illustrate how amazing the world we live in is. Gribbin frequently doesn't explain things as well, he assumes - sometimes I presume without realising it - that the reader knows certain facts. Bryson explains everything from first principles as that's the way he has had to learn it to write the book. Gribbin instead effectively has written a lot of mini-biographies of the scientists he's selected, and perhaps not put as much into what they did as Bryson.

One criticism of this book is that it is very biased towards the physical sciences, especially physics. Other than Darwinism and a bit about DNA and genetics, there is very little outside Gribbin's own subject. Bryson's book seems to have a much broader scope.

In summary if I was studying for a History of Science degree I would plump for Gribbin's book. If I wanted a good read for a desert island I'd go from Bryson's.
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on 16 September 2004
What a book!
For anyone with an interest in how we humans have found ourselves in our current state of scientific understanding this is a very good read. Taken in small chunks this book will last you weeks, with every chunk being full of insight and fascinating information, all set in context. So for example, while we all have been taught that Gregor Mendel was the prime discoverer of the principles of heredity and therefore genetics, this book tells you about others who had related views and observations and shows how "scientific progress takes place step by step". This book will convince you of the author's proposition that scientific discovery is not so much a series of revelations by individual scientific geniuses, but rather as a combination of events, a wave of small discoveries and insights, a tidal flow leading to where we are today. Only one exception is made - that of Isaac Newton who is a clear winner in the single greatest individual stakes.
I am now looking forward to my second reading, so will not be offering my copy second hand through Amazon!
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on 11 November 2010
As an unashamed fan of John Gribbin, I confess to feeling a little apprehensive before starting his six-hundred page opus on the history of science. After all, history is largely subjective and Gribbin is not a historian but a scientist, more familiar with expressing objective truths than personal opinion. However, just a few pages in and it soon became clear that my concern was unwarranted, Science: A History is an outstanding work.

Gribbin's approach to describing the scientific odyssey is predominantly biographical, taking readers from the mid-sixteenth century (with the publication of De Revolutionibus in 1543) to (almost) the present day, illuminating the context of each advance, innovation, or discovery with pen portraits of the main protagonists. As he acknowledges, some readers may dislike this approach, finding it "reactionary" or "old fashioned" (p.613), but the truth is that he provides context normally reserved for more specialized historical narratives and, by adopting this approach, he brings the subject alive in a way that few authors achieve. Moreover, what some readers might consider as the minutiae of scientists' lives, Gribbin employs as the perfect vehicle for explaining not only what happened and its importance to the scientific endeavour, but also for providing invaluable insights as to how and why Western science has advanced over the last five hundred years: it is his innate skill for capturing the essence of each contributor that makes Science: A History such an absorbing and enjoyable read.

Gribbin's other great strength is the quality and consistency of his writing and each of the scientific disciplines is thoroughly researched and, given the obvious space constraints, comprehensively presented. Nonetheless, he is clearly more comfortable discussing those areas closer to his own expertise (physics and astronomy) and consequently these subjects seem to benefit from a greater fluency than the other specialities. However, even this (minor) quibble is in some ways an additional strength: Gribbin's familiarity with the, often convoluted, history of quantum physics has emboldened him to abandon chronology in favour of narrative when it is appropriate or improves the account's cohesiveness.

In summary, this is a superb account of Western science over the last five-hundred years. Gribbin makes no apology for failing to cover the contributions from Ancient Greece, China or the Islamic nations and those readers more interested in pre-Renaissance science will doubtless do better looking elsewhere. However, if you enjoyed Bill Bryson's, A Short History of Nearly Everything you will find much to engage you in this book: thoroughly recommended.
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on 27 April 2017
An excellent book. If you enjoy science read this book!
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on 3 August 2010
The fact base is huge and complete;
The scientific explanations are exhaustive and understandable at the same time;
The personal details of the scientists are illuminating;
The historical context is constructed so as to add up to a philosophy of scientific endeavour.
Read the book, pass it on, and if you manage to get it back, read it again.
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on 29 January 2010
I'll probably get slated for this; going against the grain and all that, but I have to say I didn't really enjoy this book as much as I had hoped. Sure, it's a masterpiece of research and is packed with information. It's just not very... well, scientific.

I believe a more accurate - if ungainly - title would be 'A biography of the world's great scientists': the pages dealing with each figure go into great detail about their lives (which university Keppler attended, how many children Copernicus had, what their wives did...), but information on their scientific achievements is more sketchy, or at least masked by the biographical rhetoric, which - to me at least - is of less significance.
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on 29 October 2014
This tome by John Gribbin is one of several of his works and much loved. It's a tour d'horizon of Western science and very well thought out. How one invention/discovery begat another gives the reader a fascinating wide view of science.
However, this left me wanting more; what has been the impact of Chinese, Indian and Islamic science on Western science? And vice versa.
The ultimate true World History of Science is still waiting to be born.
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on 31 October 2003
Science books are not meant to be this interesting. I found it hard to put down, and read it in a little over a week.
By tackling science chronologically, the author presents scientific discoveries like a 'whodunnit' - making the subject intrinsically interesting. Compare this with the way science is taught in schools - to use the 'whodunnit' analogy, pupils are taught that 'x' murdered victim #1, 'y' murdered victim #2 etc. The latter approach strips the subject of a major part of its interest.
There are some great little revelations, such as how the ultra-tedious Principle of Conservation of Energy was (so to speak) 'discovered' (it involves arteries, veins & leeches), and the significance of the structure of the atom (e.g. the chair you are sitting on is mostly made of nothing - reflecting the massive gap between the electrons & nucleus. I never thought of it like that. Wow!)
The author even makes quantum mechanics simple to understand. Wow! (There I go again).
This is only the second ever Amazon review I have written. Why did I bother? Because the book enthuses me.
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on 23 November 2011
Ok, so high praise indeed. The reason why I rate the book so highly is that:
- it takes very complex subjects and makes them super clear
- each chapter left me in wonder at the marvels of the universe
- by telling the story from the human aspect of who discovered it, Gribbin manages to make the history of science tie in strongly with the general history of each era
I strongly recommend this book to anyone, whatever their level of interest
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on 31 October 2009
This isn't just a general overview of the history of Science, but is very comprehensive. Although a basic knowledge of some chem, bio & physics is helpful, it isn't essential. Highly recommended for students and the general public to understand how science has shown us our place in the universe.
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