Sunday, December 02, 2018

Book review: Eaten by a Giant Clam: Great Adventures in Natural Science


By Joseph Cummins

This book combines the biographies of about two dozen natural scientists from the age of European colonialism. It describes their lives, how they got into natural science, and what contributions they made.

Individually, must of these stories are interesting. However, read as a book, there is very much a repetition of the following story: Wealth anti-social person who doesn’t fit into normal life uses their wealth to go to far flung corners of the world, and look at stuff.  While not every single story goes exactly like this, it is very much a pattern describing the 400 year history of the misfit natural scientist. I suppose that is useful to know that this is not a new phenomenon, and there are obvious questions to be asked about how this sort of culture clashes with modern professional science, but consideration of these issues does not show up in this book. In general, it started to drag fairly early and never picked up.

2 comments:

Chris Phoenix said...

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/27/magazine/insect-apocalypse.html

Describes a modern (>100 years old to present day) private entomology organization in Germany.

Some of their organized collections are "only" 30 years old.

Natural science at its best! (And scariest. They've stored every insect they caught. The scary part is that their catches are decreasing manyfold, across the board...)

Chuck Magee said...

I have no problem with amateur science. And that study is great. My problem is with amateur culture being used to nickel and dime professional scientists.

However, this book was not nearly as interesting or compelling as that bug study.