The Discoverers

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As seen in a used bookshop near you.

For a trilogy of books that I have seen literally everywhere, not a whole lot is mentioned about Daniel J. Boorstin. The price was right, so I decided to give it a try.

I was not disappointed. It’s a charming, informative read.

Boorstin walks us through the emergence of scientific thought. And at first…it’s glorious. You bathe in the dignity and spirit of mankind and it’s potential to invent and understand the Universe. He starts with the calendar, and leads into the invention of the  clock. Then, he goes subject by subject. Evolution. Astrophysics and relativity. History. It’s breathtaking and sweeping, and full of elegant little personal anecdotes that succeed quite well in bringing the history alive. You are guaranteed to learn many things by reading this book. I’m even planning on reading, at some point in the future, the other two books in the series.

Here’s my problem.

Boorstin subscribes to the Modernist fantasy of Progress, in the most painfully Eurocentric way. Humanity’s scientific and technological progress is the property of Western Civilisation. The argument that runs along the lines of “well, all the inventions and scientific progress took place in Europe” doesn’t quite cut it because he leaves out the all the negatives this technology and scientific progress has created. His depiction of foreign civilisations – Islam and China primarily – detect them respectively as religiously hidebound and culturally/governmentally hidebound and therefore completely incapable of making a scientific leap. Boorstin does not appreciate how the technological and industrial revolution was the product of chance and geography; he prefers to lay it squarely on the shoulders of culture.

He doesn’t realise that scientific progress has a mixed record and that there are many other value systems out there.

A good read, but dated historically and philosophically.

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