The Discoveries: Great Breakthroughs in 20th Century Science

Aparna Sreenivasan reviews Alan Lightman’s new book in the San Francisco Chronicle:

Alan“[P]hilosophy students read Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason, political science majors read the U.S. Constitution, and literature classes read Hamlet and Moby-Dick, but students of science hardly ever read the original works of Mendeleyev or Curie or Einstein,” writes Lightman. And he is correct. It seems rare that a science major at an undergraduate institution in America would be required to learn scientific history by reading a batch of seminal papers from the past.

The reason is probably, as Lightman states, that recent results are usually what drive the scientific community. But without the chasms of questions chiseled by early researchers, science would not be where it is today. And by reading those influential papers, the author surmises, scientists and the general public alike will be exposed to the artistic nature of the groundbreaking work of yesteryear.

With some of these thoughts in mind, Lightman collects and describes 25 papers that represent some of the greatest discoveries in science during the 20th century.

More here.