Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything

Univ. of Chicago. 2013. 480p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780226045795. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780226045825. SCI
Well into the 16th century, curiosity was frowned upon. Ball (former editor, Nature; Why Society Is a Complex Matter: Meeting Twenty-first Century Challenges with a New Kind of Science) argues that an evolving attitude toward inquiry played almost as important a role in shaping the 17th-century scientific revolution as did the actual discoveries made, theories proposed, or methodological changes wrought in the way science was conducted. He shows that the path to modern science was neither simple nor linear. For example, the distinctions between science and pseudoscience (both of which encouraged curiosity) were not clear from the start. "Experiments" weren't conducted as rigorously as today, and it was often unclear what deserved attention out of the profusion (and confusion) of phenomena that nature offered. Even such giants as Galileo, Robert Boyle, and Newton were neither one kind of practitioner nor the other. Galileo probably fudged the results of some of his experiments, Boyle was fascinated by alchemy, and Newton's preoccupation with biblical chronology is well documented.
VERDICT Although Ball doesn't shed new light on the subject, he possesses the gift of making complicated topics compelling and understandable. A substantial work in the history of science, this engaging title should appeal to serious readers, both academic and armchair.
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