Steve's Herpetological Blog

An insight into the life of Steve, his research and the many books he reads


#StevesLibrary: No Need for Geniuses

It’s very easy as a Brit to forget that there are other countries out there that have made important contributions to science and engineering. In my mind, it is frustrating that throughout our schooling, our attention is made only to successful British scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton, without the mention of their contemporaries from other nations, who were also undertaking important and ground-breaking work. Therefore, I’m glad that Steve Jones took the time to research and write No Need for Geniuses, which focusses on the scientific research that was conducted in France both before the French Revolution and after it. I enjoy reading and learning about the history of science, in an attempt to understand how we got to where we are today and why we know what we know. This book was an enjoyable read that helped to fill some gaps in my knowledge.

I’m grateful to Jones for helping to broaden my knowledge on the history of certain topics, such as cartography and the origin of the metric system. As you can probably guess, these originated in France along with palaeontology and comparative anatomy. Thankfully, I was already aware of some of the work of Georges Cuvier and the Comte de Buffon, however it seems the talents of these men were far greater than I realised. We often take the modern world for granted but it was the efforts of French scientists that helped enlighten the world on how to predict the weather, the structure of the atmosphere, the origins of the universe, that animals could become extinct and more. If you asked the average person on the street about those topics, I wonder what their answers would be. My money would be on the fact that they would point the finger at a fellow Brit, in the hope of success. It’s a shame that this level of ignorance still exists in our society and I can only guess that it is a hang-up from the days of the British Empire. It’s clear that French scientists were passionate about their work (as well as being driven by egos), always trying to outdo one another. This may seem childish but it was successful in helping to assist the march of progress, and also assist us in understanding our world (and the universe) in a more fundamental way.

Through Jones’ writing, I have a new found appreciation of French scientists, including Antoine Lavoisier who is regarded as the father of modern chemistry. It’s remarkable that a number of the men mentioned within the No Need for Geniuses were instrumental in the French Revolution, it’s that spark that helped drive French science forward in the Age of Enlightenment. What is very clear is that the number of women scientists around during the 18th and 19th centuries were very low. However, Marie Curie is mentioned and was the first woman to be honoured with interment in the Panthéon, along with many of the men mentioned within No Need for Geniuses. Thankfully now, things are changing and more and more women are entering the sciences. When a similar book is produced in a couple of century’s time, hopefully there will be a better balance between the sexes.

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