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No Need for Geniuses: Revolutionary Science in the Age of the Guillotine

3.69  ·  Rating details ·  51 ratings  ·  9 reviews

Paris at the time of the French Revolution was the world capital of science. Its scholars laid the foundations of today's physics, chemistry and biology. They were true revolutionaries: agents of an upheaval both of understanding and of politics.
Many had an astonishing breadth of talents. The Minister of Finance just before the upheaval did research on crystals and the sp

Paperback, 384 pages
Published May 4th 2017 by Abacus
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Alex Sarll
The book takes its name from words supposedly uttered when the great chemist Lavoisier was condemned to death during the Reign of Terror. He's an emblematic figure in many ways; his experiments with gunpowder helped the American colonists free themselves from British rule, thus providing an ally for Revolutionary France; turning his work with nitrogen to agricultural ends, he helped deal with the widespread starvation of the French peasantry. But, given he also turned that same intellect and dri ...more
Ian Banks
Jan 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very broad and entertaining survey of the role that Paris and France have played in the history of science. While making the point that while Britain was famous for its literature, Austria/ proto-Germany was famous for its music and that France made a big name in Science, it doesn't downplay the role that revolution aged in the battle against scientific progress. While it takes its title from an apocryphal sentencing handed down to Lavoisier by a Revolutionary judge, it could have just as easi ...more
I was expecting a much more coherent narrative, something like Richard Holmes does in The Age of Wonder, but that never really materialised. The topic is fascinating but there wasn't nearly enough of anything tying the science discussed to any aspect of the revolution. A lot of it was presented without much context. These scientists did these things. They presumably lived in the same time period or they wouldn't be in the book. Then some stuff about how it developed after. Ok new chapter. At tim ...more
Sue Chaplin
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
History, history of science and science combined, not one of his usual books but I did find it really interesting, particularly the chapter on measurement and the attempts to get precise and accurate standards. It was also interesting to learn of the difference in attitude of and to scientists in France compared to the UK, even if several of them did end up on the guillotine.
Henk Foriers
Mar 23, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book, nice to read. It contains a lot of scientific information and facts about the period of the French Revolution and other periods. Steve Jones is an excellent storyteller. One point of criticism: the story line is sometimes hard to follow because the author takes a lot of time to make his point. But: certainly worth reading.
Jul 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent recount of the work of the scientists, mathematicians and the politics in 18th century France, and how those people still influence our understanding of the world /universe today.
Aug 06, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An enjoyable read which nicely recounts the vast contributions made to the understanding of science by a host of French scientists around the years of the French Revolution. Steve Jones writes in a very engaging style and brings together a huge amount of information in a well constructed work.
It would have been useful if a few more of the French quotations had been translated for those of us whose French is not quite up to the mark.
Jane Walker
Sep 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, science
Unexpectedly excellent book, as Jones shows the science which emerged from around the time of the French Revolution, and how the scientists were involved in the state. In each area he takes us through to the present, with some surprising developments in, for instance, our understanding of evolution. The one jarring note is that Jones feels free to insult the ecology movement.
Virginia Rand
I wish this book had the translations of all the french quotes it used. I suspect Google translate doesn't do them justice. :-( ...more
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Librarian’s note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

John Stephen Jones is a Welsh geneticist and from 1995 to 1999 and 2008 to June 2010 was Head of the Department of Genetics, Evolution and Environment at University College London. His studies are conducted in the Galton Laboratory. He is also a television presenter and a prize-winning author on the subject of

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