Form and Content

Breakthroughs in Science is a collection of twenty-six brief essays or chapters—from three to seven pages—discussing the scientific contributions, inventions, or medical discoveries of thirty scientists, inventors, engineers, or physicians. Originally published as separate essays in Senior Scholastic (a magazine for young adults) beginning in 1959, each chapter focuses on either the contributions of a single scientist or inventor or the contributions of two individuals working independently on the same topic. In the book version, Asimov provides links between contributors and illuminates common themes, so that the chapters are somewhat integrated. Although each chapter could be read as an independent essay, reading them in order provides a deeper understanding of the individual scientists and inventors, as well as of the history of science and technology in general.

With a few exceptions, the chapters are presented in roughly chronological order according to the year of the breakthrough. The exceptions are the misplacement of Edward Jenner’s eighteenth century discovery of vaccination (against smallpox) in the midst of chapters on nineteenth century science, and the chapter on evolution, which appears too late in the book. In both cases, the misplacement weakens the chapters and makes understanding the significance of the breakthrough more difficult. These chapters demonstrate the interdependence of the apparently independent...

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