A Little History of Science

A review of A Little History of Science by Rob Mason

This book consists of 40 short chapters (around 6 pages each) taking us from the beginnings of science to the present time. The first chapter entitled In the Beginning opens with the following words: "Science is special. It's the best way we have of finding out about the world and everything in it - and that includes us." The book is written by: William Bynum, professor emeritus in the history of medicine at the University College London.

Bynum shows how science, philosophy and religion often went together in the past. He reveals how science can be both simple observation and complex laboratory work or complicated formulas, in short: a systematic method of acquiring knowledge based on observation and experiment.  He then goes on to define science, "as being dynamic in the way it builds upon the ideas and discoveries which one generation passes onto the next and explains how science might be something as simple as observing the sunrise each morning, or as complicated as identifying a new chemical element." Philosophy, on the-other-hand is an academic discipline that exercises reason and logic in an attempt to understand reality and answer fundamental questions about knowledge, life, morality and human nature.  Bynum himself provides a difference between science and philosophy during his chapter 19 which explains 'The Big Bang' theory, he says: "Physicists now have information about short-lived particles and forces gathered in particle accelerators.  They have observations in the far reaches of space.  They have been able to refine what we know about the "Big Bang."There is still a lot of disagreement about some details, and even about some of the fundamental principles, but this is not unusual in science. The 'Big Bang' model can make sense of much that can be measured, including red shifts of distant stars, background cosmic radiation and the fundamental atomic forces.  It can accomodate black holes and dark matter. However what the model does not do, is to say why the Big Bang happened at all. But then science deals with the how, not the why."

 The book assumes no prior knowledge of the different aspects of science, with all technical terms explained in words that most people can understand. Bynum makes science both interesting and approachable and shows how science has influenced humans and the world we live in over time. From astronomy to zoology, chemistry to physics, medicine to technology, genetics to geology, he shows the progress over time and the inter-relationships between different branches of science. A great introduction to the subject that leaves the reader with many avenues for future investigation.