Ian Hacking, professor of philosophy, the University of Toronto; co-author of The Taming of Chance (Cambridge University Press, 1990):
Nicholas Jardine's The Scenes of Inquiry (Oxford University Press, 1991; a follow-up to The Fortunes of Inquiry, Oxford University Press, 1987). "It's a book of philosophy built around a detailed historical example," says Hacking. "The example is the German Naturphilosophie of the early nineteenth century; the text he takes is Iorenz Oken's book, translated in 1847 (forty years after it was published in Germany) as Elements of Physiophilosophy.... [It] was a rather encyclopedic vision of the sciences, which generated vast research programs [in biology and the earth sciences], a paradigm... whose content one can no longer seriously entertain." Jardine "wants to give an account of how such activity is possible," Hacking continues, "because he is moved by the belief that what makes our scientific activity possible is not much different from what makes Oken's possible in its time. The author's "main new analytical idea" is that "of a [heuristic] question being what he calls 'real' for a community"--a concept not unlike Foucault's notion of an "epistème." But Jardine "cautiously distances himself," says Hacking, "from the more flamboyant parts of Foucault."
Evelyn Fox Keller, professor of rhetoric, Berkeley; author of Reflections on Gender and Science (Yale University Press, 1986) and Secrets of Life, Secrets of Death: Essays on Language, Gender and Science (Routledge, 1992):
Fox Keller cites three books worthy of equal praise: Ian Hacking's The Taming of Chance (Cambridge University Press, 1990), Donna Haraway's Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science (Routledge, 1989) and Brian Rotman's Signifying Nothing: The Semiotics of Zero (1988; reprint, Stanford University Press, 1993). "Ian Hacking's book is a model of the social history of ideas, particularly about chance, necessity and the meaning of normality," says Fox Keller. "Donna Haraway's book is a postmodem history of science, a collage, a historical narrative in which she quite successfully interweaves the development of social, political and scientific ontologies. And Signifying Nothing is a semiotic history of the study of signs, notations and shifting subjectivities in the history of mathematical consciousness... in relation to parallel histories of art and finance."
Timothy Lenoir, professor of history, Stanford; author of The Strategy of Life: Teleology and Mechanics in Nineteenth-Century German Biology (1982; reprint, University of Chicago Press, 1989):
Crosbie Smith and M. Norton Wise's Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (Cambridge, 1989). "what's really exciting," says Lenoir, "is the way in which the authors show that the development of mathematical physics was connected very closely to industrial concerns.... The whole notion of work and labor was very much on the minds of Victorian entrepreneurs and was crucial in the shift... towards a reconstruction of classical physics in terms of work and energy."
M. Norton Wise, professor ofhistory, Princeton; Co -author, with Crosbie W. Smith, of Energy and Empire: A Biographical Study of Lord Kelvin (1989):
Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer's Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life (Princeton University Press, 1985). "There is not another book in the history of science which has had this impact," says Wise. It lays out the debate between two seventeenth-century thinkers, chemist Robert Boyle and philosopher Thomas Hobbes, over differing notions of scientific authority. It proposes that "solutions to the problems of natural order virtually always are also solutions to the problems of social order." Later parts of the book describe the "technologies" Boyle employed to "legitimate his views," says Wise. These include a "social technology, a literary technology and a material technology," namely, a method of witnessing and validating experiments, a plain writing style, and the mechanical devices themselves. " [Schaffer and Shapin] were the first people in the field to call these technologies and draw out the implications of that term," continues Wise. "The significance...is that one has to be very careful about the claims for the straightforward plain representation of nature...and to recognize that these kinds of claims are strategies for legitimation."
Silvan (Sam) Schweber, professor of physics and the history of ideas, Brandeis; author of Qed and the Men Who Made It (Princeton University Press, 1994).
Adrian Desmond and James Moore, Darwin (TimeWarner, 1992). Schweber says of this mass-market book, "It's certainly going to be an important contribution to Darwin studies, but more than that, I think it's going to set a mold for how to write scientific biography. "It's really a triumph for all the people who talk about the social construction of science, in that it shows how to use those concepts to give you a coherent understanding of a man's life."
Are there any great books you think we missed? Let us know.