I was looking for some fundamental books on history of science. I picked Thomas Kuhn book "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions" but it's not exactly about history of science - it's more on methodology and philosophy of science. Can you recommend some books? Thank you.

UPD: To be more precise, I wanted to learn more about how humanities in Europe have developed from the "beginning of science" till our days.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Are you looking for information on any specific period (e.g. origins of science, scientific revolution, early 20th century progress in physics)? The question is very broad as it stands. $\endgroup$
    – Danu
    Dec 22, 2014 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Who decides which books get included in the holy canon? $\endgroup$
    – fdb
    Dec 22, 2014 at 23:37
  • $\begingroup$ Danu, I'm looking for a book that covers history of humanities from the ancient times to nowadays $\endgroup$
    – Sergey
    Dec 23, 2014 at 9:48
  • $\begingroup$ And by "humanities" you mean "areas that are sometimes regarded as social sciences", i.e. "history, archaeology, anthropology, area studies, communication studies, classical studies, law, semiotics and linguistics"? That is still very broad, and not what Kuhn focuses on. The question title is then misleading since without qualifications people assume that science means "hard science", as the current answers indicate. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Dec 25, 2014 at 11:13

3 Answers 3

  1. Throw away the book of Kuhn. He is not a scientist. He is a philosopher. Who has an agenda. And trying to push this agenda. This approach has nothing to do with science.

  2. "Canonical books" on history of science are (my choice):

"Dictionary of scientific biography" (multiple volumes by multiple authors)

"A history of ancient mathematical astronomy" by O. Neugebauer,

"Science awakening" by B. L. van der Waerden,

"The Exact sciences in antiquity" by O. Neugebauer.

Other list members can complement this list of CANONICAL books.

There are many books on history of specific sciences in specific periods, but there is no (and cannot be) a "canonical book" on history of WHOLE SCIENCE of ALL periods. Such book is not possible. All books listed above concern either a specific area of science or a specific period, except N 1.

But they are "canonical".

I cannot call any other book in history of science "canonical", but perhaps other members will make more suggestions.

This is certainly a "big list" question. The kind of question which is not welcome (or explicitly prohibited) on this site, for the reasons which I do not understand.

  • $\begingroup$ I'm curious about your assertions regarding Kuhn. $\endgroup$ Dec 23, 2014 at 11:53
  • $\begingroup$ @MarkFantini See his comments to this post, continued in a chat. His opinion is (as he says) based on reading just one of Kuhn's works, 40 years ago. That said, Kuhn never wrote a comprehensive history of science. Also, the books he recommends by van der Waerden and Neugebauer are very good. $\endgroup$ Dec 24, 2014 at 20:28
  • $\begingroup$ Kuhn was a physicist when he was assigned to teach a history of science course. After doing research he discovered that the simplistic picture of linear progress popular at the time did not match the facts, so he wrote his own book on scientific revolutions. It was later appropriated by cultural relativists like Bloor for their own purposes, but Kuhn himself rejected relativism in his later writings. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Dec 25, 2014 at 11:22
  • $\begingroup$ The picture he proposes is the Structure of scientific revolution also does not match the facts. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2014 at 12:03
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    $\begingroup$ I echo Alexandre in wondering why "big list" questions are unwelcome. $\endgroup$ Dec 25, 2014 at 17:04

A "complete" history of science is hard to find today : the topic is too wide.

You can try with the multi-volume multi-author :

or the "older" :

But can be useful to start with recent overviews of some "critical moment", like the so-called Scientific Revolution; they are shorter and usually supply a rich bibliography :

For connection between European science and other cultures, see :

Some suggestions :

  • for Greek science : G.E.R.LLoyd (in general) and Wilbur Knorr, Reviel Netz for mathematics.

  • for Medieval science : Edward Grant and David Lindberg

  • for Early Modern Science and Galileo/Descartes/Newton : Alexandre Koyré, Stillman Drake, I.B.Cohen.


Two works come to mind:

  • Holton, Gerald, and Stephen G. Brush. Physics, the Human Adventure: From Copernicus to Einstein and Beyond. Rev. ed. New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2001.
  • Høyrup, Jens. Human Sciences: Reappraising the Humanities through History and Philosophy. Albany, New York: SUNY Press, 2000.

Both works have somewhat misleading titles. Physics, the Human Adventure is the revised, third edition of Introduction to Concepts and Theories in Physical Science. Holton and Brush, both eminent historians of science in the United States, write in the preface, "Perhaps the most unusual characteristic of our book, compared to other physics textbooks, is the emphasis it puts on the nature of discovery, reasoning, concept-formation and theory-testing in science as a fascinating topic in its own right. This means that the historical and philosophical aspects of the exposition are not merely sugar-coating to enable the reader to swallow the material as easily as possible, but are presented for their own inherent interest" (xiii-xiv). See the book's website for additional information.

Jens Høyrup, a historian of mathematics by training, is Professor in the Section for Philosophy and Science Studies at Roskilde Univeristy in Denmark. Human Sciences "assesses the importance and value of the humanities historically and philosophically, and makes the case for treating them as sciences . . . as systematic, organized bodies of knowledge, rather than as branches of knowledge that should necessarily emulate the quantitative and experimental approach of the natural sciences."


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