A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks
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A People's History of Science: Miners, Midwives, and Low Mechanicks

3.61 of 5 stars 3.61  ·  rating details  ·  128 ratings  ·  32 reviews
We all know the history of science that we learned from grade school textbooks: How Galileo used his telescope to show that the earth was not the center of the universe; how Newton divined gravity from the falling apple; how Einstein unlocked the mysteries of time and space with a simple equation. This history is made up of long periods of ignorance and confusion, punctuat...more
Paperback, 568 pages
Published November 8th 2005 by Nation Books (first published 2005)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 751)
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Devin
I love history and I love science but I can't say I loved this book. It had some very interesting information but it felt too much like a dissertation mixed with an editorial. I think the premise of the book is great and the author kept my attention well in some parts, but it just got boring in too many places. Maybe its for people who specialize in this type of social history and maybe I expected something else, but I moved on without finishing it.
Ilya
This book purports to simultaneously correct the mainstream history of science, highlighting the contribution of unlettered craftsmen, sailors, folk healers and non-Westerners to its development, and criticize science for being subservient to the interests of the ruling classes and complicit in their crimes. There is an inherent contradiction between these goals, which Conner does not notice. If medicine is forever tainted by the infection of Chinese and Allied POWs with lethal bacteria done by...more
Heather


Conner's main argument is that scientific "break-throughs" rest on the backs of unseen, often formally uneducated workers. Well, duh, Connor. Innovations in both applied and theoretical science do not occur in a vacuum, despite what the age of patents and intellectual property laws would have us believe. The history of science is no less prone to the mythologizing that frequently takes place in the hindsight of any examination of our collective past, and as such is not excused from the biases o...more
Chris Kaeff
Science has always been a collective endeavor of the folk, ever since way back when. It's not a form of knowledge bestowed upon us by giants with elite minds, elite cultures, and elite technologies. It springs forth from the work of the people. Except for Newton of course...

In the beginning was the word. -St. John

In the beginning was the word?
No, in the beginning was the deed. -Goethe
Nick
Incredibly tedious trip though history reminding us that for every great man of science there were many others working behind the scenes.
As a work of scholarship, this book may be worthy, but it is definitely not entertaining reading, even for a science geek like me.
Daniel
A decent book. While its a daunting task to go over a history of science, the author does a good job covering the importance and usefulness of knowledge that is rarely recognized. By making strong arguments about the existence of popular knowledge before science labs, he helps the case that up to recently, science was not done by the "big men" of history.

The only other person I have seen take on such a task is Bill Bryson, in a Complete History of Nearly Everything. Without a political bent, thi...more
Joan
Oct 02, 2012 Joan rated it 2 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: hard core science lovers
This book was saved by chapter 2 and the last chapter. The rest was driving me insane. These two chapters covered the chronological ends of science, the very beginning, which makes a fascinating argument for the sheer brilliance of the hunters-gatherers and an examination in the last chapter of the current state of science and where it might be heading. The author's thesis, which he throws up in the air over and over again, is that really scientific progress is based on the work of billions of u...more
Don
I picked this up at first solely for the title, as it obviously implicated Howard Zinn's great work "A People's History of the United States." That book looks at U.S. history from the bottom up, and, as one would figure, this book looks at the history of scientific thought and discovery from the bottom up. The author's primary thesis throughout the book is that too much attention is given to the giants of science, Newton, Galileo, Aristotle, Einstein, and so on, thinking that scientific progress...more
Colin
There's a lot that is good about this book but what is bad is tremendously bad. The good: great historical analysis and compilation of lots of heavy-duty academic research on the origins of stuff like navigation, metalwork, geography, etc. that you're unlikely to find outside of a philosophy of science class. Some really outstanding digging on cultural factors that framed the way famous people were recognized for their achievements.

On the tremendously bad tip, and this really only starts in the...more
sillopillo
Diamo a Cesare cio' che e' di Cesare ...
Finalmente un libro che restituisce dignita' a quanti pur nell'umilta' e nel completo anonimato hanno permesso con il loro lavoro quotidiano e la loro perseveranza il raggiungimento delle importanti conquiste scientifiche delle quali beneficiamo ancora oggi. Il valore di quest'opera e' la capacita' di dimostrare con un linguaggio sempre chiaro e scorrevole e con il supporto di una bibliografia di tutto rispetto, che spesso i geni ai quali sono state attrib...more
Ben
A great view of the history of science that focuses on all of the non-mythic figures. Plato, Aristotle, Ptolemy, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, and other science heros get pushed to the back of the story, where they actually belong.

Most of the innovations and discoveries were made by the midwives, technicians, tinkerers, and assistants, but their names were not written down, their ideas absorbed and advanced and eventually written down by those of higher status and class. We know of Galileo's story be...more
Brandelion
This book was tough going. It was difficult to maintain attention with the author's academic tone, and it was difficult to read through long passages that verge on rants where the author would take an idea, dissect it, examine it, squash it, squash it again, and bludgeon the reader with the squashed remains. I almost wish another author had taken the same premise and made it palatable for non-academics who are interested in history, sociology, and science.
Zach
This is basically a history of science showing how science is always discovered in "the trenches" or by the people doing the dirty work and not in sterile college offices by one genius professor or other. It gets a little boring at certain parts (unless you have intimate knowledge of the history of science, which I don't), but otherwise it's a pretty impressive read and manages to stay interesting. If you're interested in the discovery of different theories, etc. then you'll like this. What's ve...more
Eric Herod
'A Peoples History' argues that the history of science, like other histories, has two sides and that often the side most told and widely accepted is from the perspective of the ruling elite. Conner reminds us that the "Great Minds" we celebrate are often celebrated for ideas and inventions they did not come up with on their own. Credit is given where it is due in 'A Peoples History' but the record is also set straight in many places. I reccomend this book not only for the way in which it reminds...more
Jaime
I felt that each section probably could have been expanded into books on their own (and most of the section topics already do have entire books written about them!), so everything felt kind of rushed and condensed. That said, I think this is a very good introduction to thinking about the history of science and technology as invented by and stolen from "the people".

My only major gripe is that in the section about personal computers and the "revolution" of the internet, there was no mention of th...more
John Gonzalez
Really good for about 300-400 pages. Then at some point the redundancy of the point the author is trying to make sort of weakens the argument. We get that scientific advances are based on the contributions of regular people, but the elitist is me also knows that the development of things such as particle physics and modern algebra are a result of the developments of intellectual elites. At some point our knowledge became inaccessible to the laymen - even if they were responsible for the foundati...more
Laura
Like any text that attempts to trace the history of a subject from beginning to end, this book is long. I particularly enjoyed the beginning, which focused on the development of knowledge in hunter-gatherer societies, and the end, which focused on the ways in which capitalism affects both what is considered science and how it is used. For someone without a strong background in science like myself, though, the middle sections tended to drag on a bit with lots of names and discoveries.
deanna
the book starts off pretty slow and dry, but picks up in the middle. i think some of the slow and dry feeling had to do with my reading a lot of bryson immediately before hand.

there's lots of interesting information in the book and it turned out to be a rather enjoyable read.

i don't see myself re-reading it like i would with a bryson book, but the index is rather extensive, so i might go back occasionally to look up a bit of information.
Celeste
I don't think I'm going to finish this. Even as a socialist, I find the author's vehement anti-bourgeois rhetoric very off-putting. Plus, he seems to think that mathematics is completely irrelevant to what he thinks of as science and intrinsically elitist - which can't be further from the truth.
Thomas Yount
If I ever teach a history class in the future--this would be the book for High School students. It is at a level of reading accessible enough for youth which isn't breaming with hubris, "patriotism" and half-truths.

For anyone who loved People's history of the US by Zinn!
Justin
somewhat acedemic, but a thoroughly researched tome on how the artisans and workers built the foundations of science. the 'great men of science' heroification theory has been discounted before, but this is pretty interesting socio-political science reading.
if you're a nerd.
Scott
This reads like a thesis. The narrative is largely a compilation of quotes. Hundreds of footnotes per chapter and a 25 page bibliography. This is great as a reference text but it is too much for just reading entertainment,. Too many words and very repetitive.
Katie
Interesting look at the unnamed peoples who used their environment to develop products and methods useful for human development. Though, Conner does eschew a strong anti-great man theory of science and his rhetoric infringes on his credibility at times.
Peter
This is a fascinating book and I learned a great deal for it. The only unfortunate thing was that Conner tended to go overboard in debunking the accepted version of science, and often wrote more like an opinion piece than a serious work about science.
Eve
This book takes on the "Great Man" bias of history (including history of science), showing how common people have been the driving force behind many great innovations. I learned a lot, but the book is a bit repetitive.
Indigo
Really great history of science. Talks about working people's contributions to science, and goes against the 'great men' versions of history. I don't know much about science and still really enjoyed it.
Mitch
I kept thinking "get to the facts & stories!" But it's written in a pretty inaccessible way, with the author trying to make lots of theoretical points.
Mel
Jul 04, 2007 Mel is currently reading it
i am enjoying this book, its a pleasant stream of information coming at me.
DJ
Jul 13, 2010 DJ marked it as to-read
Shelves: history, priority
A history of science attempting to debunk the "cult of the genius"
Rachael Forden
This is one of my favorite topics. But I was disappointed.
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“      Technicians are triply invisible. First, they have traditionally been invisible to historians and sociologists of science. . . . Second, they have been largely, if not entirely, invisible in the formal documentary record produced by scientific practitioners. Even when one is committed to doing so, it is extremely difficult to retrieve information about who they were and what they did. Third, technicians have arguably been invisible as relevant actors to those persons in control of the workplaces in which scientific knowledge is produced. . . . Technicians have been “not there” in roughly the same sense that servants were, and were supposed to be, “not there” with respect to the conversations of Victorian domestic employers.” 0 likes
“The fact is that no language can be truly alive that is not used by women.” 0 likes
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