Saturday, May 06, 2023

Review: Anaximander: And the Birth of Science

Anaximander: And the Birth of ScienceAnaximander: And the Birth of Science by Carlo Rovelli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book caught my eye at the bookstore; the title and description were right up my alley. I cover the Milesians in my ancient philosophy course, so I was interested to see what Rovelli’s take would be. The overall thesis is that Anaximander introduces into humanity two main ideas at the central core to science: a willingness to question every tenet, no matter its source, and the demand to put the answer in naturalistic terms. After explaining how Anaximander does this, Rovelli proceeds to show the importance and influence of these key ideas. The latter gets a bit too general, mostly because it is very broad over of the history of science. There was little new or insightful in these chapters. The connection that Rovelli draws back to Anaximander is pretty thin.

Rovelli’s presentation of Anaximander and some of the other pre-Socratics is pretty good. He also does some basic comparisons with civilizations in China, Babylon, and Egypt. However, in terms of trying to establish his claim that Anaximander was doing something novel and not done before, Rovelli needed to do some more of this kind of comparison.

One of the most interesting aspects of Rovelli’s account is his discussion of how Miletus, at the intersection of several different cultures, made these important scientific and philosophical advances. The decentralized nature of the Greek world at this time while also being in contact with the Mesopotamian and the Egyptian cultures gave Miletus the soil in which these new approaches could flourish.

The book is approachable and well-written. I think Rovelli does a good job of telling the history of science; though anyone already familiar with this material will likely not find much new.

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