The best books on the scientific revolution

1 authors have picked their favorite books about the scientific revolution and why they recommend each book.

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The Mind Has No Sex?

By Londa Schiebinger,

Book cover of The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science

If you know anyone who still holds on to the belief that science can operate in a political vacuum, please thrust this book upon them! In 1673, a brave philosopher called Francois Poullain de la Barre publicly observed that he saw no reason why women could not be treated as the equals of men in all spheres of influence, including science. The Mind has no Sex, he declared! In this wonderfully readable book on the history of women in science, Londa Schiebinger shows us just how that belief played out. Track the jaw-dropping arrogance of science’s male gatekeepers as they systematically used every trick in their power to exclude women, weaponising their biology against them (Blame the Brain!), demeaning and downgrading their annoyingly evident talents. This book will make you angry – and so it should!


Who am I?

I’m a myth-busting feminist neuroscientist waging a campaign against the rigid gender stereotypes that govern so much of our lives and set so many onto unfulfilling paths. Seeing how often the brain gets dragged into explanations for gender gaps, I put my neuroscience hat on to check back through science and through history to find the truth behind the idea that female brains were different (aka inferior) and that their owners were therefore incompetent and incapable. What a myth! Nowhere does this play out more clearly than in the history of women in science, as shown by the books on this list. 


I wrote...

Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds

By Gina Rippon,

Book cover of Gender and Our Brains: How New Neuroscience Explodes the Myths of the Male and Female Minds

What is my book about?

Do you have a female brain or a male brain? Or are we asking the wrong question? 

On a daily basis we face deeply ingrained beliefs that our sex determines what kind of brain we have, and that these brains will determine our abilities and aptitudes, our preferences and personalities. No women scientists? Blame the Brain! But just how different are females and males? Can brain scientists tell the differences between female and male brains? Are females and males really distinguished by their levels of empathy or their map-reading skills? Drawing on cutting-edge neuroscience, this book revisits these old questions and provides surprising answers. Rigorous, timely, and liberating, The Gendered Brain has huge repercussions for women and men, for parents and children, and for how we identify ourselves.

The Baroque Cycle

By Neal Stephenson,

Book cover of The Baroque Cycle: Quicksilver, The Confusion, and The System of the World

This is a trilogy of historical fiction about, among many other things, the invention of the modern monetary system and the Scientific Revolution. Yes, it’s a heavy lift, as it’s nearly three thousand pages long, but it’s an incredible read. And if you want to get a sense of the sheer weirdness of the early days of science—both the people involved in it, as well as the ideas that they were playing with—these books are absolutely fantastic.


Who am I?

I’m a Scientist in Residence at Lux Capital, a venture capital firm that invests in startups at the frontiers of science and technology. I have a PhD in computational biology and focused my academic research on the nature of complex systems, but I soon became fascinated by the ways in which science grows and changes over time (itself a type of complex system!): what it is that scientists do, where scientific knowledge comes from, and even how the facts in our textbooks become out-of-date. As a result of this fascination, I ended up writing two books about scientific and technological change.


I wrote...

The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

By Samuel Arbesman,

Book cover of The Half-Life of Facts: Why Everything We Know Has an Expiration Date

What is my book about?

Facts change all the time. Smoking has gone from doctor-recommended to deadly. We used to think the Earth was the center of the universe and that the brontosaurus was a real dinosaur. In short, what we know about the world is constantly changing.

I show how knowledge in most fields evolves systematically and predictably, and how this evolution unfolds in a fascinating way that can have a powerful impact on our lives. I explore a wide variety of fields, including those that change quickly, over the course of a few years, or over the span of centuries.

The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages

By Edward Grant,

Book cover of The Foundations of Modern Science in the Middle Ages: Their Religious, Institutional and Intellectual Contexts

Edward Grant’s book begins, as mine does, with the medieval rediscovery of Aristotle’s works, but he focuses more intensively than I do on the impact of the new learning on scientific education and discovery. Writing clearly and gracefully, Grant demonstrates that a real scientific revolution began three hundred years before the “Scientific Revolution” of the sixteenth century. Along the way, he has some fascinating things to say about the curriculum of medieval universities and life among the first generation of European scientists. A valuable and enjoyable read.    


Who am I?

I’m a professor of conflict resolution at George Mason University and have been working for years trying to understand the causes of and methods of resolving religious conflicts. I studied the Middle Ages thinking that I’d find a story about Catholic fundamentalists persecuting innovative thinkers like Copernicus and Galileo. Instead, I found a story about religious leaders such as Pope Innocent III, Peter Abelard, and Thomas Aquinas borrowing ideas from the Greeks, Muslims, and Jews, revolutionizing Catholic thought, and opening the door to modern ideas about the power of reason and the need for compassion. What a trip!            


I wrote...

Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

By Richard E. Rubenstein,

Book cover of Aristotle's Children: How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Rediscovered Ancient Wisdom and Illuminated the Middle Ages

What is my book about?

Conventional history tells us that the Middle Ages were a time of backwardness and superstition. Schoolchildren are still taught that modern science wasn’t born until late in the Renaissance, when innovators like Copernicus and Galileo challenged the ancient view of the cosmos embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. But wait! The Church actually sponsored a revolution in theology, ethics, and science beginning in the 1100s, when Aristotle’s lost works were discovered in Arab Spain, translated into Latin, and taught in Europe’s new universities.

Remarkably, the Church allowed its own worldview to be transformed by these challenging discoveries, laying the foundations for modern Western consciousness.  This book shows that religion does not have to be “fundamentalist” or anti-science. In important ways, we are all Aristotle’s children.          

Selected Writings

By Galileo, William R. Shea (translator), Mark Davie (translator)

Book cover of Selected Writings

Few people have ideas of world-shattering originality; fewer still explain them in prose so limpid that the rest of us can follow the argument. I love receiving that gift in almost anything I read by Galileo. His writing also reminds us at every turn that great science—as his art much later came to be called—depends not just on those trite "observe, hypothesise, collect data..." recipes but, crucially, on thinking creatively about concepts. There's a man in full here, too: almost supernaturally brilliant, but also witty, defensive, cutting, proud, delighted, fearful, irascible. Of all people, of all time, he's on my top ten "wish I could have met" list.

Who am I?

I was once an academic philosopher, but I found it too glamorous and well-paid so I became a novelist and private intellectual mentor instead. I wrote You Are Here because I love what science knows, but an interest in how science knows drew me into the philosophy of science, where a puzzle lurks. Scientists claim that the essence of their craft is captured in a 17th Century formula, “the scientific method”... and in a 20th Century litmus test, “falsifiability.” Philosophers claim that these two ideas are (a) both nonsense and (b) in any case mutually contradictory. So what’s going on? 


I wrote...

You Are Here: A User's Guide to the Universe

By Richard Farr,

Book cover of You Are Here: A User's Guide to the Universe

What is my book about?

Consider: an ant the size of a blue whale would have viruses the size of ants.

A universe is a terrible thing to waste. I wrote You Are Here because it drives me up the wall when people say lazily that galaxies or planets or protons are “just too big/small/complicated/weird” to imagine. Shouldn’t we try? This very short tourist guide to everything will help you get an imaginative grip on what’s out there by tracking away from the human or one-meter scale in both directions at once: upwards, to geography and astronomy and cosmology, and at the same time downwards or inwards to the ant, the atom, and the quantum.

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