And that’s a good thing. For too many years, some of the most important contributors to the march of science have been left out of the storytelling. I’ve read tons of science books in my decades-long love affair with science and technology. And I’ve found two things to be true. Reading the short biographies and sparkling achievements of historical thinkers and tinkerers is a constant reminder of why I started reading science books when I was a kid and why I chose science journalism as my career: I loved discovering how the world works and how the winding paths of discovery are like reading a good detective story.
But secondly, unfortunately, the annals of science are woefully incomplete and inaccurate: The contributions of women, minorities, and people of non-western cultures have been consistently left out of the history and communication of science. Ask someone in this country to name a great thinker or inventor and they may rattle off a list of white, western men from Edison to Einstein. Ask for a female scientist and the list gets a lot shorter: Marie Curie. Period. Ask for a person of color and after a long pause it’s George Washington Carver. As for a foreign name? Save for Curie, only thousand-year-old figures like da Vinci or the Greek philosophers come to mind.
The pages of this book are filled with enlightening characters and ideas and fascinating people from all over the world whom you’ve never heard of. Sure Curie, Einstein, and Edison and DaVinci are here, too. But so is Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, lauded by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as the greatest scientist of modern India. And Dr. Chien-Shiung Wu, the “First Lady of Physics.”
You’ll discover when you read the remarkable stories of these thinkers that science and knowledge do not run in a straight line. One success does not guarantee another. The road is filled with failure. Personal and professional. Those scientists who triumph do so, many times, after working in obscurity or battling long odds. Whether it’s racial, gender, economic or just plain stupidity.
I’m very happy to add this long overdue compilation (and its wonderful illustrations) to my collection of fun, light-bulb-moment reading. See if you agree.
A Book illustrated by Zachary Pullen, written by Brad Herzog. With an introduction by Ira Flatow.
While this may appear to be a book about remarkable people, it is actually about the potential of the human mind.
THE THINKERS celebrates the prospect of looking up through a telescope or down through a microscope and discovering previously undiscovered wonders. It rejoices in the visionaries who noticed a need and conjured up an enduring solution, or who turned the germ of an idea into a seminal concept, or who obsessively tinkered until they arrived at an invention that changed the world.