Alberto Mart’nez has successfully completed a very difficult task. He has written a book concerning various myths about the history of science that will be very interesting to, and understood by, a generally educated reader. At the same time, his scholarship is so careful that the book will be of value to professional historians and philosophers of science. The episodes, which range from Galileo to Einstein, are fascinating and well chosen. I strongly recommend this book.
Was Darwin really inspired by Galapagos finches? Did Einstein’s wife secretly contribute to his theories? Did Franklin fly a kite in a thunderstorm? Did a falling apple lead Newton to universal gravity? Did Galileo drop objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Did Einstein really believe in God?
Science Secrets answers these questions and many others. It is a unique study of how myths evolve in the history of science. Some tales are partly true, others are mostly false, yet all illuminate the tension between the need to fairly describe the past and the natural desire to fill in the blanks.
Energetically narrated, Science Secrets pits famous myths against extensive research from primary sources in order to accurately portray important episodes in the sciences. Alberto A. Martinez analyzes how such myths grow and rescues neglected facts that are more captivating than famous fictions. Moreover, he shows why opinions that were once secret and seemingly impossible are now scientifically compelling. The book includes new findings related to the Copernican revolution, alchemy, Pythagoras, young Einstein, and other events and figures in the history of science.
Did Galileo really study gravity by dropping objects from the Leaning Tower of Pisa, as many of us learned in school? According to science historian [Alberto A.] Martinez, a rich variety of tall tales, myths, and fictitious accounts have congealed around famous scientists 'like plaster, paint, and acrylic gloss.' In a laudable effort to separate the fragments of truth from the hype surrounding a number of eureka moments in the history of science, Martinez skillfully reveals how even the best biographers and writers make plausible but incorrect connections between historical events and often rely on their imagination instead of the facts. VERDICT: Martinez's more truthful reconstructions of these mythlike stories about Newton, Einstein, Darwin, and other scientists are only a starting point for a fascinating analysis of the historical and social factors that created these legends and keep them alive. This book should be required reading for all college science majors. The author's meticulous and engaging use of historical evidence will also appeal to history of science enthusiasts.
Martinez does four valuable things in this book: he refutes several well-established myths and misunderstandings in the history of science, he finds a common thread to many of the older myths in a hidden history of Pythagoreanism, he shows how to detect such mistakes in the work of others, and how to avoid them in one's own work. It is at once a work of solid scholarship and an education in how to do history of science and it can be read with pleasure and excitement by anyone who cares about the place of science in the modern world.
Martinez has pointed his finger at interesting and often unexplored aspects of science history: Our urge to know leads us to interpolate facts and interpretations into history in a process of speculative invention. These interpolations get picked up, recycled, reinforced, and evolve until we cannot separate fact from fiction any more. Pythagoras is the patron saint of this process. It is more enjoyable to disentangle real history from these interpolations—and to understand why these interpolations were made in the first place—than to accept them and live with them. Myths, after all, are meaningful, and as meaningful can be explored.
Alberto A. Martínez is associate professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of Science Secrets: The Truth about Darwin’s Finches, Einstein’s Wife, and Other Myths; Kinematics: The Lost Origins of Einstein’s Relativity; and Negative Math: How Mathematical Rules Can Be Positively Bent.