History and Philosophy of Science, Literature, Reviews

Review: Lightman, Victorian Popularizers of Science

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Bernard Lightman’s Victorian Popularizers of Science: Designing Nature for New Audiences is a fascinating study of the work of some of the most influential expositors of scientific doctrine during the 19th century—though they are rarely credited as such. The names of the popular science writers of the Victorian era are often overshadowed by those of the scientists they wrote about, but as Jon Turney notes in a recent review for the Times Higher Education, in his new book Lightman skillfully illuminates their cultural and historical importance. Turney writes:

The Victorian explosion of print embraced a diversity of treatments of science and its significance that exhibits many of the tensions that still mark science in public. Who has the right to speak for science, to interpret nature or to have the final word on humans’ place in a universe in which God’s hand in creation is in question?
As he catalogues the many contributors to the new popular scientific literature, and their works, Lightman illuminates how the different answers to these questions played their part in battles over science’s authority and cultural prestige.…
Throughout, Lightman pays detailed attention to publishers and print runs, as well as to the authors’ lives and works. The book is a substantial work of scholarship rather than a casual read, and it offers much for historians of science as well as students of popular writing.

Read the rest of the review on the THE website.