While Weinberg confines most mathematics to a 95-page appendix, readers will strain to comprehend some of the lengthy...



Histories of science celebrate great thinkers of the past. In this ingenious account, theoretical physicist and Nobel laureate Weinberg (Chair in Science/Univ. of Texas; Lectures on Quantum Mechanics, 2012, etc.) celebrates generously but gives equal emphasis to why they often missed the mark.

Many people assume that pre-Enlightenment societies were ignorant, but they didn’t think so. In ancient China, Greece, Rome and the medieval world, wise men observed, thought deeply, and pronounced on a wide variety of subjects, sometimes correctly, usually not. They not only didn’t know what they didn’t know; they also didn’t know how to learn it. They often mixed metaphysics and reality. The work of Aristotle, the quintessential ancient scientist, was suffused with teleology, the belief that everything has a purpose. Thus, objects fall because their natural place is the center of the universe. Much early science was actually philosophy, but since nothing in the laws of nature “corresponds to ideas of goodness, justice, love, or strife…we cannot rely on philosophy as a reliable guide to scientific understanding.” Despite today’s scientific orthodoxy, we also should not rely solely on observation and experiments. Copernicus and Kepler argued for a heliocentric solar system based on mathematical simplicity, not accuracy, and prediction of planetary movements was no better than Ptolemy’s. Unlike some academics, the author has a keen understanding of the precise details of his subject, and he makes good use of them throughout the book. “Some historians of science make a shibboleth of not referring to present scientific knowledge in studying the science of the past,” he writes. “I will instead make a point of using present knowledge to clarify past science.”

While Weinberg confines most mathematics to a 95-page appendix, readers will strain to comprehend some of the lengthy nuts-and-bolts explanations, but those who persist will come away with a stimulating view of how humans learn from nature.

Pub Date: Feb. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-06-234665-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 29, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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