Patricia Fara has written a fascinating account of the broad sweep of scientific progress more or less since records began. Although I don’t agree with everything she says, I enjoyed reading it and I’m very glad she says it. But it is very cheeky of her to claim that this is ‘a new type of scientific history’. Her story is special, she says, because it is ‘not about idealized heroes’ but about ‘real people’ who needed to make a living, got involved in rivalries, and made mistakes. Fair enough, but there are already many other accounts of scientific history that treat scientists in this way (I’ve even written some myself), and it is disingenuous to claim that the approach is new.
The real value of the book lies in its wide range, and although nearly half of the content deals, as you might expect, with the past couple of centuries, the most impressive aspect is the coverage of older history.