Brian Silver - The Ascent of Science

"Physics and mathematics are now on the throne," Edward Gibbon declared in the 18th century. And while D. H. Lawrence might sniff 100 years later, "Whatever the sun may be, it is certainly not a ball of flaming gas," science has for three centuries reigned supreme in human intellectual endeavor. How this came to be, who made it so, and what it has meant to humanity is the subject of a wonderful new book, The Ascent of Science. A history unlike any other, it presents a sweeping and irresistible overview of Western scientific discovery from the Renaissance to the present, and how it has altered how we view ourselves and our world.

The reader receives the full guided tour: the revolutionary discoveries of Galileo and Newton, the mind-bending theories of Einstein, atomic sexuality, molecular monsters, Franklin's kite and Luigi Galvani's frogs, the works. But what makes it such a spectacular tour is that the late Brian L. Silver explores not only the history of science, but specifically, science as a source of ideas that has shaped all of human history. Blending subjects as diverse as quantum physics and the poetry of Blake, he examines the interplay between science and other intellectual movements. Chaos Theory is discussed alongside free will vs. determinism. He compares the science of Newton and the philosophy of the Marquis de Sade, the skepticism of Descartes and the faith of Francis Bacon.

Silver's singular triumph is the sense of excitement and awe he imparts to the reader—in a very real sense, this is a feel-good book.

Silver does more than explain scientific achievements with wit and grace: For him, science is fun. In this spirit, he leads a whirlwind tour through wondrous worlds of molecular biology, animal evolution, quantum mechanics, and relativity. -- Publishers Weekly

Silver has a real knack for explaining difficult ideas with insight and clarity. He knows how to use an apt metaphor and understands that the metaphor is never enough. And his writing is engaging. Many times, when I wanted to skim over some familiar phenomenon, I found myself reading a vivid discussion I hadn't expected. -- David Goodstein, The New York Times Book Review

Silver's explanations of the leading theories and discoveries—including their philosophical implications—he covers are usually detailed and clear, without dumbing down such challenging concepts as quantum theory, relativity, and the Big Bang. Confident but not arrogant, comprehensive, thought-provoking, and very well written. Silver has given us one of the most stimulating overviews of science in recent years. -- Kirkus Reviews

His book does a first-rate job of presenting an enormous range of material in an entertaining, understandable way . . . It is not simply a feast of ideas. Gathered around the tables laden with elegant, intriguing, and challenging scientific principles are some of the oddest and most interesting personalities of history. And like an energetic, entertaining host, the author introduces each platter or player with a quip or bit of quirky personal history. -- John R. Alden, The Philadelphia Inquirer