Science in history

Joy Hakim’s The Story of Science, Book 1: Aristotle Leads the Way gets a rave review from Justin Torres of Education Gadfly.

Hakim is an engaging writer, unafraid of taking a stand and unembarrassed by the book’s location of science in the humanities and its forthright focus on Western culture’s outsized contributions to scientific inquiry. (Though she does not stint on non-Western history, either.) I found amazing the connections Hakim made between Western philosophy and religion and their creation of the rational, inquisitive mindset that makes modern science possible — connections you will rarely find in most textbooks. For example, she rightfully lingers on the early Renaissance philosopher and theologian Thomas Aquinas, who revitalized the Aristotelian approach of classification and careful observation that is the modus operandi of modern science. How many American middle schoolers even know the name Aquinas, much less can explain his significance? A few caveats: the book suffers slightly from what Diane Ravitch has called the “If it’s Tuesday, this must be the Hittites” phenomenon, which is perhaps unavoidable in a history that spans millennia. And Hakim is a bit broad in some of her characterizations of religion, especially the other-worldly Christianity that developed in the Medieval era, which was not so anti-intellectual as she sometimes suggests. But these are quibbles that arise from something incredibly refreshing in a textbook: a crisp and articulate point of view.

Hakim is a great story-teller.

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  1. Sounds interesting (though someone who thinks that Thomas Aquinas is “early Renaissance” obviously needs to do some more reading. *sigh*. People who die in 1275 don’t count as the Renaissance, even in Italy). Aristotle has gotten a horrible deal lately because of his (utterly unremarkable in the context of his time) opinions about the uterus; my opinion of the history-of-women attack on Aristotle is that they talk so much about him because he’s widely available in accessible, indexed translations, which can’t be said for most of ancient or medieval medical writing.

  2. Michelle Dulak Thomson says:

    Michael Tinkler,

    At a guess, the reviewer called Aquinas “early Renaissance” because “medieval” is mostly a pejorative in modern usage, whereas “Renaissance” sounds so, um, progressive. I think this is silly, but then I’ve seen Durham Cathedral (11th c.!) and York Minster in the last year. (To be fair, I don’t think York Minster was actually finished until mid-15th-c., but the bulk of it is 13th-c., i.e., roughly contemporaneous with Aquinas.)

  3. Steve LaBonne says:

    So I suppose Dante is an “early Renaissance” poet and Giotto an “early Renaissance” painter, then? 😉

  4. Steve LaBonne says:

    P.S. In science and technology the Middle Ages were arguably more progressive than the Renaissance…