A Little History of Science, By William Bynum
A Little History of Science
Yale University press
Bynum’s history of science is simple, lucid and accessible. There isn’t a single difficult sentence. Reading it could foster an enthusiasm for scientific endeavour in a young reader. The story progresses strictly chronologically from Babylonian stargazers to the Higgs boson. Each of the 40 short chapters tackles a single strand of scientific achievement. In a phenomenally wide-ranging book, all of the greats get their due: Einstein, Mendel, Galileo, Linnaeus. A typically interesting chapter is that on Charles Darwin, whom Bynum describes admiringly as “a man of enlarged curiosity”. As a professor of the history of medicine, the author is happiest describing the heroes of medical progress: Galen, who dominated ancient medical thinking; Robert Koch, who identified the germs that cause tuberculosis and cholera; Alexander Fleming of penicillin fame; and many others. There is an underlying theme in this gentle treatise: the need for scientists to persevere, to co-operate, to believe in the common good and to see further, in Isaac Newton’s words, by “standing on the shoulders of giants”.