Villate's Reviews > Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin's Finches, Einstein's Wife, and Other Myths

Science Secrets by Alberto A. Martínez
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's review
Oct 01, 2011

really liked it

Some of this was very difficult to read for a layperson because of the amount of technical and scientific jargon, but the chapters that dealt specifically with historical "facts" or stories were very interesting and mostly engaging. I vividly remember being taught in high school physics class that Galileo dealt a death blow to the scientific clout of the Catholic Church with his cheeky experiments off the Leaning Tower. Martinez not only clarifies what we know and what we don't know about some of the stories we tell about science and scientists, but explains why certain stories have more traction than others and how they tell us more about ourselves than about the figures they purport to illuminate.

Adding this little review I wrote for my sci-fi fan club newsletter:

As Alberto Martinez points out in this book, we tend to give scientists and their discoveries a kind of heroic, even superhuman sheen when we tell their stories. They are the brave explorers, wise heretics, and bold iconoclasts we wish we could be, striking down the ignorance of the bigoted and uneducated while blazing the trail for enlightened future generations. The truth, of course, is that they are as human and fallible as the rest of us, and the stories we tell about their exploits and discoveries are as much about how we want to see ourselves as they are about the history of science.

In Science Secrets, Martinez aims to set the record straight about a number of popular conceptions (not all of them mis-) about scientific discoveries ranging from the influence of Pythagorean ethics on alchemists to whether Darwin and Einstein believed in God. These names come up frequently throughout the book, forming a running theme of influence and interpretation. Some of the chapters can be difficult to get through, especially the jargon-laden explanations of Coulomb’s experiments and the development of Einstein’s theory of relativity. Other chapters, such as those about alchemy, the development of the theory of natural selection, and Newton’s “discovery” of gravity, are witty, informative, and easy to comprehend. There are a lot of surprises here, like Einstein’s embrace of eugenics “science,” the fate of Newton’s apple tree, Tycho Brahe’s golden nose, and the unexpected influence of paganism on Galileo’s thought.

Martinez also gives the reader food for thought about how to approach everyday decisions about what to accept as “true.” As he provides the facts and explains the differences in types of documentation (primary, secondary, first-hand, hearsay, fiction, etc.), he gives the reader an education not only in the history itself, but in how to write and understand history. In the age of the Internet, it can be hard to pin down what really happened in any given event, but we tend to enjoy the benefits of a large number of sources; in history it can be much more difficult because we have few primary sources in many cases, and the sources we do have are often carefully massaged to represent the historical figures in very specific ways, either positively or negatively. It’s helpful to approach any “authoritative” history or widely-told story with a critic’s eye. Popular notions of history (ancient or current) do not always need to be debunked outright, but certainly we can and should question the reason why that particular telling strikes a chord within us and what it can teach us about the way we look at the world.
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by loafingcactus (new)

loafingcactus This guy only releases his books in hardback? So sad for Mary... :-(

Villate I don't know - I've never read him before and just spotted this book on the New Releases shelf at the library. Check your local library, maybe they have a copy.

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