Cover image for Servants of nature : a history of scientific institutions, enterprises, and sensibilities
Servants of nature : a history of scientific institutions, enterprises, and sensibilities
Pyenson, Lewis.
Personal Author:
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, 1999.
Physical Description:
xiv, 496 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
Q124.6 .P94 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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In an avowedly non-postmodern history of science, Pyenson (history, U. of Southwestern Louisiana) and the late Sheets-Pyenson (philosophy, Concordia U., Montreal until 1998) survey the interfaces among scientific education, scientists' values, and cultural tensions between tradition and innovation from antiquity to "the century of relativity." Contains a dozen plates including a 16th- century print shop and Japan's first woman physicist (d. 1980). Annotation copyrighted by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

Quite aside from the telescopes and test tubes, science requires supportive institutions and a fertile culture. From the Lyceum of ancient Greece to the laboratories of the modern research university, the authors of this new study limn the social and cultural contexts that have catalyzed scientific progress. Their remarkably wide-ranging investigation reveals how science--stunted so long as natural philosophers pursued their research in secretive solitude--finally flourished in associations that divided their tasks and shared their findings. The breadth of the Pyensons' scholarship also exposes a complex dialectic in which social beliefs have at times dictated the scientist's tasks (making astronomers servants of the priesthood in ancient India, for example), whereas at other times it has been the scientist's findings that have shaped society's beliefs (undermining absolute moral standards in the age of Einstein, for instance). Sure to win a large readership among those interested in the history of science. --Bryce Christensen

Publisher's Weekly Review

From time to time one comes across a book that seems like a 19th-century study of everything, descriptive rather than analytical in nature. This volume by the late Susan Sheets-Pyenson (Cathedrals of Science) and her husband, Lewis Pyenson (Empire of Reason; Cultural Imperialism and Exact Sciences) is one of those books. In attempting to discover how scientific practice and public life have interacted over the ages, the Pyensons touch on just about every aspect of life except cooking (and one wonders how they missed that): reading and education, museums and zoos, maps and books, religion and knowledge. But after nearly 500 pages of an encyclopedic survey of science and society over the ages, the reader is left alone to mull over the deeper connections between all these many, often fascinating, facts and figures; the introduction and conclusion are the weakest parts of the book. At their best, the authors can adroitly craft long and richly detailed chapters: on how the military throughout the ages has furthered scientific research thats benefited humankind; on how religious institutions have supported scientists and advanced knowledge even when their chief goal was to promote dogma; on how methods of courting have changed scientific method. An attractive aspect is the books attention to Islam and Asia, especially China, too often relegated to the intellectual peripheries in Eurocentric histories of science. Readers who have never dipped into history of science books might find this a good introduction, if they are game to take on a cornucopian agglomeration of information and draw their own conclusions. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved