The hook in this history of science book by George Johnson is that the author wants to step back from modern megascience with all its massive teams, corporate backing, and global collaboration. Specifically, he wants to can look back and appreciate the simpler times when one man could take an amazing idea and cobble together some experimental apparatus to test it in a simple, elegant experiment. The book looks at ten such situations, ranging from Galileo's experiments on the movement of bodies to Galvani's manipulation of electricity to Pavlov's exploration of animal psychology.
You may think that's a pretty good hook (nerd!), and if you're in the book store or at your computer reading the dust jacket, you'd think that the reader is in for a broad tour of the highlights of science over the last few hundred years. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that if this wasn't a sampling from ALL of science, it was close --not just physics or chemistry or psychology, but a more encompassing approach.
And it does turn out to be mostly all that. My main problem is that Johnson's writing style makes the book read more like a text book than a popular science book, which is what I was hoping for (and, to be honest, sold by the dust jacket). It's a little too dry, a little too much to the point, and a little TOO focused on the experiments themselves. Johnson specifically addresses the latter in his introductory chapter, noting that he could have chosen to say more about the people doing the experiments or the politics and society surrounding them, he consciously decided to keep the experiments in the spotlight. I can see that point of view and that goal, but let's face the unfortunate truth: you can only read so much about an experimental procedure and laboratory aparatus before your eyes start to glaze over. The book just needed a little something more, be it some more context or maybe just a little more entertaining style.