A few million years ago, our ancestors came down from the trees and began to stand upright, freeing our hands to create tools and our minds to grapple with the world around us.
Leonard Mlodinow takes us on a passionate and inspiring tour through the exciting history of human progress and the key events in the development of science. In the process, he presents a fascinating new look at the unique characteristics of our species and our society that helped propel us from stone tools to written language and through the birth of chemistry, biology, and modern physics to today’s technological world.
Along the way he explores the cultural conditions that influenced scientific thought through the ages and the colorful personalities of some of the great philosophers, scientists, and thinkers: Galileo, who preferred painting and poetry to medicine and dropped out of university; Isaac Newton, who stuck needlelike bodkins into his eyes to better understand changes in light and color; and Antoine Lavoisier, who drank nothing but milk for two weeks to examine its effects on his body. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, Werner Heisenberg, and many lesser-known but equally brilliant minds also populate these pages, each of their stories showing how much of human achievement can be attributed to the stubborn pursuit of simple questions (why? how?), bravely asked.
The Upright Thinkers is a book for science lovers and for anyone interested in creative thinking and in our ongoing quest to understand our world. At once deeply informed, accessible, and infused with the author’s trademark wit, this insightful work is a stunning tribute to humanity’s intellectual curiosity.
(With black-and-white illustrations throughout.)
Mlodinow (Subliminal), a theoretical physicist at the California Institute of Technology, opens his powerful new book with a story about his father, who as a starving prisoner at Buchenwald once traded his bread for the answer to a riddle. He writes that upon hearing his father's story, he "realized then that search for knowledge is the most human of all our desires." That is the recurring theme as Mlodinow follows scientific thought from its birth in prehistoric man to its blossoming in Aristotle, Newton, Lavoisier, Darwin, Einstein, and beyond. He discusses the intransigence of belief in a natural world ruled by gods before Aristotle and the subsequent intransigence of belief in a natural world ruled by too many erroneous Aristotelean precepts. He notes the suffering that can accompany the pursuit of knowledge such as that of Galileo as well as the enormous, wordless satisfaction. Breathing new life into science history, he frames narratives of great thinkers with serial scenes of his father's great courage and curiosity, despite only having a seventh-grade education. Mlodinow's point has been made before, but rarely so well: the quality that best distinguishes and honors humankind is not an ability to answer questions, but that "after millennia of effort," nothing stops us from asking them.