Book Review: The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution

Book Review: The Invention of Science: A New History of the Scientific Revolution by David Wootton

At the beginning of the Fifteenth Century, there were no scientists as we understand the term, and no science.  Received wisdom from Aristotle and Galen ruled knowledge and philosophy.  Then a series of changes in technology and the way people investigated nature brought a new way of thinking.  By the end of the Seventeenth Century there were scientists, an intellectual community of people who had created a process we call “science.”

The Invention of Science

This book covers the history of those centuries, and how the Scientific Revolution began.  David Wootton is a professor of Intellectual History at the University of London and an Anniversary Professor at the University of York, and the Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries are part of his focus.

There were, according to this book, several contributing factors to the Scientific Revolution.  The printing press allowed ideas to be widely spread and preserved for long times.  Perspective drawing allowed more accurate pictures to be published–you could build something from plans!  The telescope and microscope opened up new worlds to human vision.  Readily available compasses improved navigation.

Plus of course, the “discovery” of America showing there were entire landmasses unknown to the ancient philosophers, and a nova in 1572 that revealed the heavens were not fixed and unchangeable as Aristotle had decreed.  The old answers no longer satisfied, and people began methodically testing to see what actually happened when, for example, you floated ice in water.

It wasn’t an overnight change; several of the pieces took a while before their true significance or usefulness was understood.  At first, much of it was simply mathematicians applying their skills to astronomy or ballistics.  But over time, the changes accelerated, so that by the time of Isaac Newton, what he did with refraction of light was clearly the scientific method.

This is a college level text, with copious footnotes and end notes, bibliography and index.  Professor Wootton spends a great deal of time tracking down earliest uses of various words used for science in a science-related context, like “fact” and “hypothesis.”  This can get tedious, but he’s trying to show how the new way of thinking had to adapt and invent vocabulary for ideas that simply didn’t exist in that form before.  Thankfully, there are also illustrations throughout, and a center section of color plates.

The author also has a section devoted to calling out historians he disagrees with, primarily relativists.  Apparently, there is a school of thought that science is effectively a group delusion, with more socially prominent or connected scientists imposing their views on their colleagues.  Creationism is just as good science as evolution, it would seem.  The author claims that there are such things as theories that don’t stand up to facts.  I am not educated enough to evaluate his conclusions or his description of other historical philosophies; he may have misrepresented them.

Recommended primarily for history students and science buffs.  The casual reader would probably be better off with biographies of the various individual people involved, many of whom led interesting lives that are barely touched on in this volume.  (Women and non-Europeans who helped advance the cause of science are barely mentioned, mostly to say they existed.)

 

 

Movie Review: Viking Saga: The Darkest Day

Movie Review: Viking Saga: The Darkest Day

A fairly low-budget film based very loosely on the real-life events surrounding the Book of Kells.  Viking raiders have sacked the monastery at Lindesfarne, killing most of the monks.  In addition to their usual spoils, the Vikings desire a book.  This illuminated copy of the Bible is particularly well-done, even a masterpiece, and is considered almost holy in itself.  The one who possesses the book would hold great political power over the region.

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To protect the book, the Lindesfarne monks sent it with two of their number, young Hereward and elderly Athelstan, on a perilous overland journey to the religious community of Iona.   The monks are assisted by a Saxon warrior named Aethulwulf, and there is a clash between the peace-loving monks and the pragmatic swordsman.   While the trio flees from a raider squad led by chief Hadrada, they run into a young woman staked out as bait for bandits…

The American DVD art is rather misleading, showing a horned Viking and making it look like this is a huge epic.    It’s a chase movie, with a small cast (a rugby club is reused as extras a couple of times) and shot on location in Wales.   The setting is gritty, with dried blood and filth accumulating on faces and clothing.  The fights tend to be short, brutal and un-cinematic.  (Some liberties are taken with the final fight scene that veer into the unrealistic.)

Religious themes play a big part in this movie, the Christian faith of the monks, Aethelwulf and a random doomsday cult they encounter, the Aesir worship of the Vikings, and the Celtic stories of the bound woman.  Hereward grows to understand that there is more than one way to serve God, and that protecting the people of the land is also important.  He also has a fever dream of Christ’s suffering during the Crucifixion.

The movie’s rated “R” for violence, and for some full-frontal male nudity (kind of blurry) in a non-sexual context at the beginning of the film.

I used a free Redbox rental to see this movie, and it was worth every cent.   Don’t go into expecting a big spectacle, great acting or fancy special effects, and you should be fine.

Book Review: Blood Lance

Book Review: Blood Lance by Jeri Westerson

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This is the fifth Crispin Guest novel, featuring a disgraced knight of the Fourteenth Century who takes up a career of detection, earning the nickname “Tracker.” I have not read the previous volumes.

Guest happens to witness a man falling from a bridge into the Thames. By the time he reaches the man, the fallen person is already dead–and he didn’t drown. The dead man was an armourer, who it would appear owned a piece of the Lance of Longinius, a relic that supposedly pierced the side of Jesus Christ, and grants victory in battle. The lance has since gone missing, and multiple parties are working at crosspurposes to find it. Two of these are old friends of Crispin’s, but are they his friends now?

All this is set against political maneuverings in the English court, as soon-to-be adult King Richard’s favorite is losing his grip on power. The climax of the novel is an exciting trial by combat, with the actual solution of the mystery for a coda.

The noir elements are quite obvious; the morally ambiguous but still upright protagonist, everyone having secrets and many of those unpleasant, miserable weather and darkness (at least at the beginning, authorities who can’t be trusted and the detective’s falling for a woman too close to the case.

One tricky element of the story is the Spear. This is, apparently, not the first time Crispin Guest has come into contact with a supposed holy object. And while it’s left ambiguous whether or not the Spear actually has any powers, (Guest himself is a skeptic) the coincidences keep piling up. Towards the end, at least one character believes that these are not coincidences, and that artifacts seek out Crispin for a purpose as yet unknown.

It’s a good read by itself, and I would certainly be willing to look up other volumes in the series.

Disclosure:  I received this book in a Goodreads giveaway on the premise that I would review it.  My copy was an ARC, so minor changes may have been made in the final product.

 

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark)

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark) by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert

demonknight

When DC Comics rebooted their mainline universe in 2011, this left them free to rearrange the past of that universe .  To fill in part of that timeline, we have this title.

After a brief moment at the fall of Camelot, we see the town of Little Spring, a relatively peaceful village that just so happens to be host to seven ill-assorted strangers.  It’s a close call as to whether these strangers or the encroaching army of the Questing Queen is more of a danger.  Nevertheless, it falls to this ragtag band of misfits to defend Little Spring until it can be relieved by Alba Sarum.

The “heroes” of this story don’t much like each other, and several of them aren’t very heroic at all.  But like it or not, they have to work together…or do they?

This is one of the more successful reimaginings of the New 52.  Paul Cornell does good banter, and blends what we “know” of various characters with new information in interesting ways.  Several mysteries are set up, only a couple of which actually get movement in this volume, which contains the first seven issues of the series.  Also, kudos to Mr. Cornell for a relatively diverse cast, and not pretending it was only white able-bodied men who did anything important in the Middle Ages.

There’s quite a bit of gory violence, and some dark themes–I would recommend this for older teens and up.

 

 

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