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Reading Science Stories

Reading Science Stories - Joy Hakim Celebrating nonfiction reading and telling the stories of science is a very good idea, and the short selections in this book are good choices. The stories are biographical -- very little story-telling time is spent on the math and science, but that's understandable and makes sense. I'm a little confused as to what age these are aimed at. Early on, the author explains several basic concepts, like the Pythagorean theorem and some basic history notes with great pains, so I assumed it's aimed at young readers. But later on, the author clearly assumes that the reader knows not only who Columbus was and when he sailed the ocean blue (fair enough), but also that Newton invented calculus, which seems odd to me. The tone of this assumption can sound really condescending and off-putting if the kid who's reading doesn't know that.

There are a few other things that bothered me about these stories. There seems to be little distinction between myth and history. She speaks of the doings of the god Apollo in the same tone as the real ancient Greeks. And mythical history stories are repeated, such as Archimedes running through the streets naked shouting Eureka and Newton basing his gravity theory on the fall of an apple. Maybe I'm too much of a stickler to be disappointed in these things, but I felt the overall level of history scholarship of the book was basically at this level. Also, many of the stories ended abruptly, and the author did not bother to really point out the inaccuracy of the historical findings she describes -- a tiny statement that E=mv^2 was basically the same as the later E=mc^2 is one example. Ummm... well, sort of. But not really. That's a super loaded comparison, and it's just left there at the end of the story. The really strange 2-sentence summary of the beginning of Islam and its characterization as more business than religion was particularly troubling. Kudos for the inclusion of history other than European. I'm not crazy about the execution.

Some of the recurring ideas are good here, such as the theme that geniuses take ideas that seem unrelated and compare them to come up with something new and useful. Great! Also, she discusses the importance of observation and experimentation without really using either word. I cringed a little when she said about the roundness of the world that it is one thing to have a theory and quite another to have proof... Scientists have been trying to straighten out the general public's idea of what a scientific theory is for a very long time and this won't help.

Also, I have to say that many of the stories had strangely abrupt endings.

So I guess I'd recommend it with some caveats. Teachers in the know will be able to read these stories and supplement them with correct information, finishing the seemingly unfinished stories in this collection. But it could be done better. It can probably be done better by Hakim herself, given a little higher standard for solid truthiness and finishing the story that's been started.

I got a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley.