A Brief History of Science

2nd July 2004 at 01:00
A BRIEF HISTORY OF SCIENCE. By J W Maltby. Halsgrove pound;14.95

Science has huge ambitions. It aims to describe and understand the world and the universe in which we live in such a way that we can chart a course through our unimaginably broad ignorance.

So it is much to the credit of A Brief History of Science that the definition of science is dealt with clearly and succinctly in the opening three pages, which distinguish such concepts as observation and experiment; subjective and objective data; and hypotheses, theories and laws.

Unfortunately, the section on "basics" is too heavy - it has an equation on the second page that requires the reader to understand infinity, the speed of light, associativity (the importance of the order in which mathematical operations are performed) and the use of subscripts, fractions, square roots, and squares. It will be a shame if that deters the general reader, because large parts of this book echo the clarity and interest of the opening pages.

A useful reference rather than a readable narrative, teachers and students alike may find something useful in its mix of biographical sketches, scientific facts and ideas. Sadly, the traditional structure of the history does not lend itself to descriptions of the most modern inventions and discoveries; the book does not mention the internet.

Peter Cotgreave is the director of theSave British Science Society www.savebritishscience.org.uk

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