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One Man's Story of Science
on 20 March 2012
As mentioned by other reviewers, trying to squeeze 'The Story of Science' into six one hour episodes is a tall order. After reading some of the lower score reviews, I came to this documentary with a degree of apprehension and relatively low expectations. As a result, I was not too disappointed; although, like the Curate's Egg, it was only good in parts and not good overall.
Originally trained as a doctor, prior to departing that career choice, Mosley demonstrates his bias of knowledge about things chemical and biological, more so than in engineering and physics. However, he is a credible presenter and able to hold one's interest with his own appreciation of some of the wonders he unmasks in his story.
Clearly, as reflected in my review title, this is 'One Man's Story of Science,' which is inevitable given the breadth of the subject. The story of science as told in various books on the history of science holds a huge amount of 'stories' and it is really a question of choice by the presenter, which inevitably leaves out many other 'stories.' However, Mosley's selection did provide a consistent theme that tried to show how six important questions could be answered via the lens of a history of development of ideas and the associated science.
My biggest surprise was the fact that Mosley's introduction to each of the series suggested that his over-arching theme of 'Power, Proof and Passion' was a somewhat unique if not innovative way of looking at the history of scientific development. Whilst it is true that not every historical account would include these three elements, it is false to suggest any novelty in this approach. Many historical works on the subject of science's evolution reflect an appreciation of the fact that science is not a smooth linear progression; rather is is 'jerky' and driven by forces quite independent of the science itself, including pervading social norms, prejudices, political and economic power and larger than life characters. I am glad Mosley adopts such an approach, but the claim to uniqueness made me wonder how well he really knew his subject, beyond presenting a film script on a subject that provided him with an interesting journey.
For anyone seriously interested in the history of science, this documentary will simply represent another dumbing down of the subject matter due to the limited time available. As a result, most events were dealt with at a superficial level and as each episode drew to a close, events were hurriedly covered. However, as a broad overview of some of the pivotal events in the development of science it is an entertaining and at times illuminating journey. I should recommend the series but with the proviso that one should recognise it still remains, inevitably, one man's story of a much broader subject; nevertheless, it is a reasonable introduction to the subject.