ASTONISHING TALES OF FORGOTTEN GENIUS
The invitation to write a book of “lost stories from the history of science” sent me off to quiz scientist friends and delve into obscure archives accumulated over twenty-one centuries. The result is a book of ten tales that you and I didn’t hear in school science classes.
Here are irrepressible risk-takers, spies, scoundrels, unsung heroes, tragic victims: Seventeenth-century Flemish Jesuit astronomer Ferdinand Verbiest invented the first automobile as a clever toy to amuse the emperor of China but was forced to test his knowledge of astronomy in a spectacular trial-to-the-death in the Imperial Court in Beijing. Intrepid eighteenth-century Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche trekked through dangerous and almost impenetrable regions of two continents to observe transits of Venus and gave his life for his science. Austrian physicist Lise Meitner’s hair-raising escape from Nazi Germany had the scientific world holding its breath, but she was unjustly passed over for the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry that was awarded to her colleague Otto Hahn for splitting the atom. Benjamin Thompson, whose inventiveness and charisma rivaled Benjamin Franklin’s, spied for the other side in the American Revolution. There are chapters titled “Near Fatal Fiction” and “The Pavlov of Cats” . . . and more.
Join me . . . history buffs, science buffs, anyone who loves a good story . . . to discover these extraordinary people and their spellbinding, near-forgotten exploits.
• • • • • • REVIEWS • • • • • •
Review in Association of Science Educators Journal:
This book is about the history of scientific discoveries. Kitty Ferguson has, after her personal research, chosen ten scientists who were involved, though often not acknowledged — in scientific discoveries from the first century CE to the 1960s. What I particularly liked about this book (in addition to its highly readable text) was that in every chapter I learnt something new and surprising. If I had heard of the scientists I learned some new aspect about their work, and where I hadn’t heard of the scientists I was amazed to learn of their significant contribution to our science understanding.
Review in CHOICE:
The saga of science has many adventurous stories, and this work presents riveting accounts of some that are unknown or unacknowledged.
Review for Amazon.com by Timothy Haugh
The idea behind this book is an excellent one: shining light on “overlooked or lost stories in the history of science”. Additionally, Ms. Ferguson has a solid background in writing on the history of science and her prose is very engaging. (Her book on Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler is a personal favorite.) This is a beautiful, well-written and -illustrated work that does a good job of bringing out various less known people and moments in science. It is definitely a worthwhile read.
Review for Amazon.com by George Poirier
In this well-written, mesmerizing book, the author highlights some of science’s lesser-known crusaders. Ten such scientists and their accomplishments are discussed, one per chapter. I found this book to be written in a style that is friendly, accessible, lively and highly engaging. I found it very difficult to put down. Furthermore, learning about scientists that I’ve never heard of, as well as some details in the lives of those that I knew about, was a very enriching and worthwhile experience for me. Amply illustrated with pictures, diagrams and various figures, this book can be enjoyed by anyone. However, science enthusiasts, in particular, should be in for a treat.
• • • • • • TABLE OF CONTENTS • • • • • •
PART I: RIPPING YARNS
1. “The Emperor’s New Astronomy,” Ferdinand Verbiest
2. “Farm Lad, Spy, Aristocrat, Rascal,” Benjamin Thompson, Lord Rumford
(late-18th – early-19th centuries)
3. “Pursuing Venus,” Jean Chappe d’Auteroche
(late 18th century)
PART II: IN THE SHADOWS
4. “Lost in Her Own Legend,” Mary the Jewess
(1st – 3rd centuries AD)
5. “Wondrous Transformations,” Maria Sibylla Merian
6. “The Other Darwin,” Alfred Russel Wallace
(19th – early 20th centuries)
7. “Escape to Obscurity,” Lise Meitner
PART III: FORGOTTEN FIRSTS
8. “Near-Fatal Fiction,” Johannes Kepler
(16th – early 17th centuries)
9. “Astronomy on Ice,” Milutin Milankovic
(early 20th century)
10. “The Illusive Quality of Stillness,” Barry Sterman
(1965 – present)
NOTES, BIBLIOGRAPHY, INDEX