Reading Popular Physics is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the nature and implications of physics popularizations. A literary critic trained in science, Elizabeth Leane treats popular science writing as a distinct and significant genre, focusing particularly on five bestselling books: Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, Steven Weinberg's The First Three Minutes, James Gleick's Chaos, M. Mitchell Waldrop's Complexity, and Gary Zukav's The Dancing Wu Li Masters. Leane situates her examination of the texts within the heated interdisciplinary exchanges known as the 'Science Wars', focusing specifically on the disputed issue of the role of language in science. Her use of literary analysis reveals how popular science books function as sites for 'disciplinary skirmishes' as she uncovers the ways in which popularizers of science influence the public. In addition to their explicit discussion of scientific concepts, Leane argues, these authors employ subtle textual strategies that encode claims about the nature and status of scientific knowledge - claims that are all the more powerful because they are unacknowledged. Her book will change the way these texts are read, offering readers a fresh perspective on this highly visible and influential genre.
Table of Contents
Contents: Introduction; Popular physics books: a brief history; 'I blame the popularisers ...': the boom and its backlash; The 'two cultures': some theoretical developments; Knowing quanta: anthropomorphic metaphor in popularizations of quantum theory; Exploding the Big Bang: popular cosmology as mythic narrative; Chaos, Complexity and characterization: stereotypes of the scientist in physics popularizations; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.
Prize: Shortlisted for the British Society for Literature and Science book prize of 2007. 'Elizabeth Leane's pioneering exploration of physics popularizations richly illuminates their larger significance as well as their vagaries. Filled with apt examples and keen readings, this book opens perspectives important to all concerned with science and its place in human thought.' Peter Pesic, St John's College, New Mexico, author of Abel's Proof and Sky in a Bottle ’... anyone who wants to consider popular science seriously will want to start here.’ Times Higher Education Supplement ’...based on exhaustive scholarhip... Leane analyzes many aspects of the relation between popular science literature and the ’other’ culture...An interesting book, packed with information, for a good college library... Recommended.’ Choice ’Focusing upon several well known texts [...] the result is an eye opener... Perhaps, as scientists, we need to step back and ask just what we want to achieve through the popularisation of science and the portrayal of scientists; Leane's book is a good place to start.’ Australian Physics ’... tightly argued and fascinating study... The book's lengthy bibliography offers further riches for specialists, while the main text remains accessible to readers with no background in literary criticism. Reading Popular Physics is a sophisticated, engaging book on the ways we talk about science - and their consequences.’ Science 'This slim volume is self-admittedly a call for further literary analysis of popular science writing, and it is this effort that has been pursued most fully, as Reading Popular Physics offers a usefully detailed introduction to and analysis of the field against which literary-critical analyses of popular science writing could proceed. The writing is clearest and the thinking best developed in reporting the relevant histories of popular science writing, the shaping of science studies as a discipline, and the later-tw