I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that most people couldn’t tell a very coherent version of the story of western science. Sure, certain names (Aristotle, Galileo, Copernicus, Newton, Einstein) could be pieced together. But in terms of the flow of thought and discovery, I don’t think most of us are there.
A couple of solutions are available. One is to get Susan Wise Bauer’s book The Story of Western Science: From the Writings of Aristotle to the Big Bang Theory. Or, you could read her section on science in The Well-Educated Mind. There is much overlap between the two, including recommended books. The former is obviously more in-depth, so pick your path wisely.
This is the one section of the book is that is entirely new to the updated edition. It does round out things nicely, and helps to fill the lacuna in most people’s reading diet (is that mixing metaphors?).
- The Natural Philosophers
- The Observers
- The Historians
- The Physicists
- The Synthesists
- The Popularizers
She then helps readers learn to read science books following the three stages:
Grammar-Stage Reading (435-439)
- Read a synopsis
- Look at the title, cover, and table of contents
- Define the audience and its relationship to the author
- Keep a list of terms and definitions
- Mark anything that confuses you and keep reading
Logic-Stage Reading (439-442)
- Go back to your marked sections and figure out what they mean
- Define the field of inquiry
- What sort of evidence does the writer cite?
- Identify the places in which the work is inductive, and the areas where it is deductive
- Flag anything that sounds like a statement of conclusion
Rhetoric-Stage Reading (442-443)
- What metaphors, analogies, stories, and other literary techniques appear, and why are they there?
- Are there broader conclusions?
Armed with these questions, you’re now ready for Bauer’s annotated poem and poets list. These lists are good reason enough to buy the book for yourself, but if you just want the list, I got you. I’m mostly linking to the editions she suggests. As a general rule, she guides readers to editions that are cheap and affordable, free of extraneous notes (i.e. critical editions) so you can focus on reading well on your own. It is however helpful in some cases to have some insights into what the author might be up to you that you’d otherwise miss.
With that in mind, here’s the list:
- On Airs, Waters, and Place (Hippocrates)
- Physics (Aristotle)
- On the Nature of Things (Lucretius)
- Commentarioulus (Copernicus)
- Novum Organum (Bacon)
- Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems (Galileo)
- Micrographia (Hooke)
- “Rules” and “General Scholium” from Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica (Newton)
- “Preliminary Discourse” in Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes (Cuvier)
- Principles of Geology (Lyell)
- On the Origin of Species (Darwin)
- Experiments in Plant Hybridization (Mendel)
- The Origin of Continents and Oceans (Wegener)
- The General Theory of Relativity (Einstein)
- The Origin and Development of the Quantum Theory (Planck)
- Evolution: The Modern Synthesis (Huxley)
- What is Life? (Schrödinger)
- Silent Spring (Carson)
- The Naked Ape (Morris)
- The Double Helix (Watson)
- The Selfish Gene (Dawkins)
- The First Three Minutes (Weinberg)
- On Human Nature (Wilson)
- Gaia (Lovelock)
- The Mismeasure of Man (Gould)
- Chaos: Making a New Science (Gleick)
- A Brief History of Time (Hawking)
- T. rex and the Crater of Doom (Alvarez)