From his earliest beginnings, man has been curious about the nature of the world about him. Before there was ever a laboratory, human beings explored, theorized, and tried to control the infinite variety of matter in their physical environment. This account of man as materialist, attempting to understand and deal with the nature of matter, begins with the evolution of the hand, the eye, and the brain that accompanied the first use of stones and sticks for weapons or tools.
This book takes the reader from the ingenious theories of the Ancient Greeks, with their magnificent blend of myth and observation, through the work of those ancients, Eastern and Western, who studied, wrote, and left behind them ideas which were to reappear in the Renaissance. As alchemists became chemists, and the towering figures of the Age of Enlightenment began their systematic studies, the chemical sciences not only became part of the modern world but were a basic force in creating it. On these foundations the science of the atom and the intertwined helices of DNA become clear and seemingly inevitable. “The old Cartesian dualism is ended and between the organic and the inorganic kingdoms we find continuous passage,” notes the author.
Students will find this history of the material sciences especially valuable for its humanistic perspective. It shows the development of science as an integral part of the evolution of modern culture. But the book is written specifically for the intelligent general reader. It is an attempt to treat not only the history of a science but also the elements of the scientific ideas themselves. Biographical and chronological information – the sweep of thought about the physical world – is soundly based on concrete knowledge of scientific developments throughout history. In an age of specialization, it is rare to find an attempt to synthesize a major area of human thought. It is even rarer to find one that succeeds as brilliantly and readably, without compromise in quality of information, as that this study does.
Professor Schneer’s previous book, The Search for Order (now in a paperback edition entitled The Evolution of Physical Science), was praised for its historical perspective, its logical development, it’s “zest, good humor, and broad understanding.” His new book will be equally welcome for its clarification of the fundamental ideas of modern chemical science and for its ability to evoke the excitement of man’s intellectual growth through his exploration and use of materials.
Cecil J. Schneer is professor of geology at the University of New Hampshire. A graduate of Harvard, he took his Ph.D. at Cornell in 1954. He has published frequently on structural crystallography and the history of science in the Renaissance. Professor Schneer is the author of The Evolution of Physical Science (The Search for Order). He is an associate editor of the Dictionary of Scientific Biography and a corresponding member of the Commission on the History of the Geological Sciences of the International Union of Geological Sciences, as well as fellow and member of numerous professional societies. In September of 1967, Professor Schneer brought together at Rye Beach, New Hampshire, twenty-five American and European geologists and historians of geology for the first interdisciplinary conference on the history of geology, a project sponsored by the American Geological Institute, the History of Science Society, and the National Science Foundation. He is currently working on the relationship between the form of crystals and their internal atomic arrangement.