Outstanding Academic Titles 2022: History of Science & Technology

Enjoy five selections from the Choice Reviews 2022 Outstanding Academic Titles list. This week we highlight, in no particular order, Outstanding Academic Titles from the past year regarding the history of science & technology.

1. Turn on the words: deaf audiences, captions and the long struggle for access
Lang, Harry G. Gallaudet, 2021

That captions enrich everyone—deaf, hard-of-hearing, and hearing persons as well as people with disabilities—is the kernel of this book. Lang (emer., National Technical Institute for the Deaf, Rochester Institute of Technology) turns dry details into vivid prose while chronicling the more than 70-year, Deaf-led movement for access to what hearing people take for granted: access to films/movies, television, videotapes/CD-ROMs, and internet videos/streaming media. Readers learn about Deaf persons from the 1950s to the present who not only provided technical expertise and program management but were savvy warriors flexing political muscle for protective federal legislation in support of captioning. Lang recounts personal stories, providing photos of Deaf scientists, community leaders, lawyers, parents, and teachers persistently pushing for captioning—a fight that goes on today for access to open captioning in public movie theaters. As a renowned scholar, scientist, historian, and teacher, Lang knows about English literacy challenges among young deaf learners and underscores the benefits of captioning for providing access to information and incidental learning, enabling Deaf signing persons to become culturally and linguistically literate while supporting the acquisition of reading comprehension and vocabulary skills. View on Amazon

2. A history of biology
Morange, Michel. tr. by Teresa Lavender Fagan and Joseph Muise Princeton, 2021

Seaming together the story of the development and evolution of the life sciences from ancient times to the current interest in astrobiology, Morange (emer., Univ. of Paris) presents a comprehensive review of the transformations in outlook that have molded the biological sciences through the ages. In this work, brilliantly translated from the original French, the words flow easily. The first four chapters examine, respectively, ancient Greek and Roman views, the Arab-Muslim influence during the middle ages, the practice of alchemy and fascination with dissections characterizing the Renaissance period, and the mechanistic model of life prevailing in the 17th century. The narrative proceeds to succeeding centuries, when the understanding of embryology, cell biology, microbiology, and physiology came to dominate the field. The 19th century (part 2) erupts with the theory of evolution, the mystery of heredity, and the recognition of ecological relationships. Fast forwarding to the current era, molecular biology takes center stage. Each succeeding phase of scientific understanding is inspected and dissected, exposing the reader to the intellectual patterns of thought, diversity of investigators, and various outside influences that shaped the path of (Western) science. View on Amazon

3. Imperial science: cable telegraphy and electrical physics in the Victorian British empire
Hunt, Bruce J. Cambridge, 2021

Offering a fascinating niche history of nascent long-distance telegraphy and exploring how personalities and culture affect advances in science, Hunt (Univ. of Texas at Austin) makes the names from science classes come to life: Maxwell, Faraday, Lord Kelvin. This story plays out in the latter days of the expanding British Empire. The political and commercial incentives to developing telegraphy were in knowing current conditions thousands of miles away—it took six weeks for word of the 1857 Indian Rebellion to reach London. The potential cost of failure was a critical motivator to mastering the science this new technology required. Rigorous theories were confounded by crippling evidence of signal degradation, as observed in early underwater telegraph cables. Maxwell’s field theory explained and resolved this costly problem, enabling intercontinental communications. Hunt’s core story is supported by a wealth of collateral learning about Victorian life: people—how Lord Kelvin got his name, the Royal Society, economics, emerging technologies, and the British empire itself. Notable events include identification of the now-common metrics and ratios used in measuring electricity and the challenging task of laying underwater cable in the steamship era. View on Amazon

4. Hawking Hawking: the selling of a scientific celebrity
Seife, Charles. Basic Books, 2021

Few educated people in today’s world have not heard of Stephen Hawking, the physically handicapped scientific genius whose writings ranged from the most esoteric themes (cosmology and black holes) to popularizations such as A Brief History of Time (1988) and his own mini-autobiography, My Brief History (CH, Aug’14, 51-6807). But few know about the obsession of this renowned physicist with scientific glory and immortality. He wanted to be another Isaac Newton, an ambition perhaps not as uncommon as was his striving to achieve it in awkward ways. In this fascinating book, Seife (NYU) narrates Hawking’s life and doings, including his marriage, complaints about fellow scientists, and wrecking the reputations of other physicists. In so doing, Seife exposes the “dirty linen” behind Hawking’s well-deserved fame as an unusually brilliant mind. Readers get to know about Hawking’s petty rivalries, paltry complaints, and pampering of the rich and the mighty to “hawk” his own reputation. Aside from covering Hawking’s interactions with the press and his publishers, the text also presents a few scattered but intelligible expositions of technical physics. This is a fascinating biography of a truly great (intellectually speaking) human being. View on Amazon

5Albemarle Street: portraits, personalities and presentations at The Royal Institution
Thomas, John Meurig. Oxford, 2021

The “Renaissance Lives” series published by London-based Reaktion Books promises on its website to offer “lively” biographies of Renaissance notables, and this exemplary volume delivers on that promise. Writing with clarity and fluidity, Barker (Dalhousie Univ.; Univ. of King’s College, Nova Scotia) delineates the multiple aspects of the life of this prince of scholars in the context of the political, cultural, theological, and humanistic currents characteristic of the 16th century, offering an engaging introduction to the life and accomplishments of Erasmus. This remarkable Renaissance “self-fashioned” prodigy emerged from obscure origins and, thanks to his masterly embrace of the new technology of printing, rose to the summit of his profession. Barker analyzes selections from Erasmus’s voluminous scholarly output and succeeds in presenting a multi-faceted portrait of his subject, based in part on traditionally verifiable biographical data but articulated primarily by illustrating that the author’s works “can present the living spirit of the writer” and indeed “show him better.” View on Amazon

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