English is the global scientific language – and has been for some time. That much is obvious. What is not so obvious is why. Although Scientific Babel is presented as a history of the very idea of a global scientific language, Michael Gordin, a Princeton-based historian of 19th- and 20th-century physical sciences, is really interested in fathoming the ascendancy of English. Nowadays, Spanish is actually the European language with the most native speakers, but English has the most second-language speakers. And that’s what counts when it comes to being the global scientific language. Indeed, Spanish was never a serious contender in the global scientific sweepstakes.