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Publisher's Summary

For well over 2,000 years, much of our fundamental "desire to know" has focused on science. Our commitment to science and technology has been so profound that these stand as probably the most powerful influences on human culture. To truly understand our Western heritage, our contemporary society, and ourselves as individuals, we need to know what science is and how it developed.

In this 36-lecture series, one of science's most acclaimed teachers takes you through science's complex evolution of thought and discovery, often originating from ideas that by today's technological perspective might be considered ridiculous or humorous, although many are still relevant today. You'll consider science's often fascinating history, from ancient times to the Scientific Revolution, in terms of several penetrating questions, including two of special importance: Who pursued science, and why? What happened, and why?

In the hands of Professor Principe, the history of science becomes far more than just a litany of dates, significant individuals, and breakthrough discoveries. In examining the evolution of science, he restores the vitally important context that has been lost from the discussion, showing how science is characterized by ideas that link eras widely separated in time. A primary theme is the relationship between science and religion. Today, we tend to see the two as separate and even antagonistic. Theology, in fact, is a principal motivator for scientific inquiry. And in the Middle Ages, Christianity and Islam were of paramount importance in preserving and furthering scientific knowledge.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2002 The Teaching Company, LLC (P)2002 The Great Courses

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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    4 out of 5 stars

Heavy on Theology

Really great commentary, interesting perspective even if overtly biased (somewhat revisionist).

Even though some of the back stories were good, there were a lot of ones about cathedral imagery and far fewer about the interesting lives that the "scientists" (natural philosophers) led. If you enjoy hearing slightly more drawn out biographies about the scientists, then I highly recommend the very enjoyable Concise History of Everything, which is also on Audible.

I can't critique the professor too harshly though because it was informative to have a theologian scholar reflect on this time period when religion and natural philosophy were so often intertwined. Sometimes I was left wishing the professor understood the actual science behind the history as well as he knew to draw on obscure biblical references when discussing the divinity of natural philosophy. The Arabic scientific knowledge chapters were presented well but were way too brief. Eastern learning was entirely left out.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

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Very parochial view

How is this history of science from Antiquity to 1700s! Three major
cultures and their contributions are totally ignored namely Egyptians,
Indians and Chinese. If Roman engineers get coverage I think
Egyptians engineers should get some coverage as well. As far as we
know, ancient Greeks respected them for their achievements. Chinese
and Indian contributions to science are well documented but never even
mentioned in 36 lectures—let’s see a few—compass, paper making,
printing, gun power, Indo-Arabic numerals, material sciences,
astronomy, etc. And list goes on. Are these contributions not in
science but Roman bridges and European clocks are? This is really a
very poor attempt to paint Western History of Science as the history
of science of the entire World. Islamic contributions could not be
ignored as many started with old Greek text and Babylonia was included
as a starting point—alas could claim that civilization started in
Europe!

18 of 21 people found this review helpful

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Excellent narration and story, but

It needs to be renamed to 'history of science in the West'.
The author needs to at least acknowledge that it doesn't cover scientific contributions from other parts of the world - especially India and China.

5 of 6 people found this review helpful

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  • Nebbie
  • Cincinnati, Ohio United States
  • 08-24-15

Illuminating

Very enjoyable tour of the history of Science. Engaging lecturer, this book filled in gaps and contextualized things I already knew.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Fara
  • Longmont, CO, United States
  • 12-15-13

Good, but spotty.

What would have made History of Science: Antiquity to 1700 better?

This book is part history of science and part apologia for misguided religious intrusion into same. The parts regarding the actions of the Catholic Church I found particularly vexing partly for their selectivity (if one is going to try to mitigate the wrongs the Church has done, include all of them--for example, never was any mention made of Hypatia and the saint who oversaw her execution) and partly because they simply do not belong in a course on science. Had I realized in advance that the lecturer was a winner of the Templeton prize, I would not have bought this book.

12 of 19 people found this review helpful

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    4 out of 5 stars

Interesting topic. Mediocre lecturer

The narrator has long pauses that take away from the presentation.

The material is shallow but that is to be expected. This is for the small section of people whom are interested in the history of science but never had any formal study of it

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Rich Survey Course

Professor Principe offers 36 well-organized, polished lectures in this course (which I've now heard for the second time).

He weaves common threads of discovery and development with (the part I find most fascinating) the complex motives, personalities and changing needs of the individuals and social structures of the eras considered.

The picture that emerges of household names like Galileo, Archimedes, Kepler, Newton, Copernicus &c. is often in stark contrast to the context-less barnacle-encrusted caricatures that are embedded in modern culture.

I still wish he would record a similar series for developments past the 17th century, but I'm glad to have spent my time and money on this course, and recommend it whole-heartedly to those who are interested in the rest of the story.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Would give it 6 stars if I could

An excellent introductory course on the subject. A thought-provoking tour through some of the ingenious and bizarre ideas that people in the past had held of the natural world and its workings. The lecturer does a fantastic job of putting the material in context and explaining where the various ideas came from. He consistently reminds us to put aside our modern biases and try to see the past on its own terms. Frankly, it's really hard to imagine how people in the past had thought. They had many ideas that seem strange or ridiculous to us today; however, often those people in fact had pretty solid reasons for holding those strange opinions. Scholars in the past did not have access to much of the information that we have today. They made do with the data they had. If the conclusions they came to were later proven wrong, it's not necessarily their fault. To judge them fairly, we need to look at what tools they had, what information they had access to, and what the widely accepted theories of the day were. The lecturer makes a valiant effort to reconstruct for us the thought processes of these scholars.

I saw that some of the other reviews criticize the course for downplaying the conflict between science and religion. I would counter that these reviewers failed to follow the lecturer's advice about setting aside modern biases. There is a popular idea that the history of early modern science is nothing but the heroic struggle of rationality against the barbarous Catholic church. However, like most pieces of "common knowledge," this is a gross oversimplification: a caricature that does not do justice to either side. The real story of the relationship between the church and rational inquiry is a lot more complex and nuanced. The modern conflict of science and religion is largely a product of the last two hundred years; in the period discussed in this course, this conflict was not at all inevitable. Many of the people who investigated the natural world in this period were in fact clerics or theologians, and even those who weren't, still generally held religious beliefs of some sort. And when conflicts did arise, they were very different from the science vs. biblical literalism wars that are going on today. In my opinion, the lecturer does a great job of portraying the actors fairly in the context of their time. It's hardly a flaw of the course if it helps to dispel a dramatic popular myth in favour of a more nuanced view, even if the picture that emerges is harder for us today to relate to. After all, as they say, "The past is a foreign country."

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Great Storytelling

This lecturer was a great storyteller and gave great background into historical figures like Newton, Pythagoras, and Plato. I highly recommend a listen.

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Interesting

An interesting course. It's very nice to learn the context of many scientific discoveries. I appreciate the fact that the lecturer explains the background of the discoveries- and not only jumping from one to another. I also acknowledge the central role of various religions in preserving and improving scientific knowledge. However, the lecturer seems to ignore religious persecution of science and knowledge- such as the Cristiano abolishment of the academies in Byzantion and the consequential Greek philosophers flight to the muslim empire. He also does not mention that the first university was founded by a Muslim women in Marroco, centuries before any European university. Although religions contributed to scientific discoveries, once they understand the peril of scientific discoveries to their exsistance, they have started fighting science ferociously.

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  • Omar
  • 05-01-17

Excellent book on the topic.

Captures the history and relationship of science with technology and religion brilliantly. I never realised how much of modern Islam comes from Plato and Aristotle.