9780393317367 / 0393317366

Servants of Nature: A History of Scientific Institutions, Enterprises, and Sensibilities (Norton History of Science)


Publisher:W. W. Norton & Company



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About the book:

Perhaps the most pernicious myth about science is that of the bright loner, the Einstein who single-handedly revolutionizes how we think about the world. Scientists, just like the rest of us, are social animals, say Lewis Pyenson and Susan Sheets-Pyenson in their eloquent history of learned societies, Servants of Nature. From classical Greece and ancient China to modern technical institutes, they show us the cultural apparatus used to discover (or create) and then transmit knowledge through the generations, usually mirroring local political institutions, though sometimes on the vanguard of social change, as in the student-run colleges of late medieval Europe.

Scholarly yet lively, Servants of Nature is organized in chapters dealing with specific aspects of knowledge: "Teaching," "Measuring," and "Knowing" are a few of the activities whose meanings have changed over the centuries and have been debated and refined by academies, royal societies, and universities to the present day. Though the stories of personalities are, of course, subordinated to those of the institutions to which they contributed, the narratives are still fresh and compelling. In the end, we are reminded that while we perceive individuals as the source of discoveries and knowledge, it is really their connections that channel and perpetuate their learning--after all, it's not what you know, it's who you know. --Rob Lightner

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