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Great men of science

by Hereward Carrington


Great men of science by Hereward Carrington   (2013-04-25)


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by wppalmer

Review of `Great men of science', by Hereward Carrington edited by Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, published by Haldeman-Julius Company, Girard, Kansas in 1924.

CITATION: Carrington, H. (1924). Great men of science (Little Blue Book #409). Girard, Kansas: Haldeman-Julius Company.

Reviewer: Dr William P. Palmer

`Great men of science' is one of twenty Little Blue Books that Hereward Carrington wrote for Emanuel Haldeman-Julius, the well known publisher whose publishing business was centred at Girard, Kansas. This is a 61 page Little Blue Book and illustrates well Carrington's capacity to write in areas of science in which he is not an expert. The booklet contains numerous errors, some of which will be detailed. On the other hand this book probably sold more copies than any other work on the history of science; it has thus opened up science history to the general public. It is of the `let us now praise famous men' type with the emphasis on `men' though Madame Curie does get a three line mention jointly with her husband, Pierre.

Carrington carefully defines a great man of science as one who `not only makes ingenious and original researches, but as one who sees the philosophical import of his work ...' (p. 6). In the long lists of scientists mentioned in each of the sciences, Carrington mentions many names that do not fit his full definition. The sciences are defined and each of the following receives a separate section. These are:- General science: astronomers: chemists: physicists: biologists: evolutionists: psychologists: physicians: practical scientists: and mathematicians. The listing of sciences (p. 10) does not fully correspond with these headings. Interestingly psychic research (Carrington's interest) is included in this listing.

In the section on chemistry (pp. 21-25), much information is simply in the form of lists of chemists, stating their names, some with dates, and that they were `famous chemists', which is of limited value. Scheele is mentioned as the discoverer of nitrogen which is disputed; it is now generally agreed that nitrogen was discovered by David Rutherford in 1772. Scheele, with Priestley and Lavoisier are usually considered to be joint discoverers of oxygen. Carrington (p. 22) says that Scheele (1742-1786) was one of the `great names' in chemistry before Lavoisier (1743-1794); most historians would consider them contemporaries. Jean Dumas should be referred to as Jean- Baptiste Dumas. The name Sir William Ramsey should be Sir William Ramsay. Carrington (p. 23) mentions the name `Wallaston'as a `great names' by whom he probably means William Hyde Wollaston (1766 -1828).Similarly millikan is misspelled as Millikin etc. Generally, Carrington should have provided fewer names and some information about what each named chemist had discovered.

The section on physics, (pp. 26-31) is full of errors. One problem is that Carrington tries to give a general history of physics and then provides information later about the histories of light, electricity etc, sometimes repeating himself.
`Romer first computed the velocity of light'(p. 26)
`In 1676, Romer (Denmark) discovered the velocity of light.' (p. 30).

Also, the story of the discovery of the dark lines by Fraunhofer (misspelt Fraunhhofer) and explained by Kirchhoff can be found on page 26 and the story is repeated on page 30.

Sir William Ramsay's name is misspelt again (Ramsey), as is R. A. Millikan's (Millikin); there are numerous half-truths and some instances where the importance attached to some research/ researchers has been reassessed and has changed over time. Other sections seem less prone to error than Carrington's sections on physical sciences, so overall Carrington's inaccuracies may be forgiven as his work increased general interest in the history of science.


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