2016 Shortlist for the Cundill History Prize
We live in a world made by science. How and when did this happen? This book tells the story of the extraordinary intellectual and cultural revolution that gave birth to modern science, and mounts a major challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy of its history.
The new science did not consist simply of new discoveries, or new methods. It relied on a new understanding of what knowledge might be, and with this came a new language: discovery, progress, facts, experiments, hypotheses, theories, laws of nature - almost all these terms existed before 1492, but their meanings were radically transformed so they became tools with which to think scientifically. We all now speak this language of science, which was invented during the Scientific Revolution.
The new culture had its martyrs (Bruno, Galileo), its heroes (Kepler, Boyle), its propagandists (Voltaire, Diderot), and its patient labourers (Gilbert, Hooke). It led to a new rationalism, killing off alchemy, astrology, and belief in witchcraft. It led to the invention of the steam engine and to the first Industrial Revolution. David Wootton's landmark book changes our understanding of how this great transformation came about, and of what science is.
David Wootton is Anniversary Professor of History. He works on the intellectual and cultural history of the English speaking countries, Italy, and France, 1500 to 1800. Most recently, beginning with Bad Medicine (2006), he has taken up topics from the history of science, topics which raise questions of rationality and relativism that are classically expressed in the philosophy of science of Thomas Kuhn. Bad Medicine is the first history of medicine to acknowledge that for more than two thousand years medicine was, like astrology, a fantasy technology.
His most recent book is Power, Pleasure, and Profit published by Harvard University Press. He has given the Carlyle and Besterman Lectures at Oxford, the Raleigh Lecture at the British Academy and the Benedict Lectures at Boston. He is currently writing a book on Voltaire.