Form and Content

Scientific knowledge is based on information and thought as it developed and evolved over thousands of years. Men, Microscopes, and Living Things brings this concept home to the reader. Divided into individual chapters, Katherine B. Shippen’s book highlights major figures in science in the context of their own lives and in the world that they knew.

Each chapter is itself a short biography of an individual. Figures are chosen not so much for their prominence but for the impact of their discoveries or thoughts. Each chapter is not merely a compilation of dates; indeed, the inclusion of even specific dates for birth or death is uncommon. Rather, emphasis is placed on the importance of a particular individual to the development of scientific thought.

The philosophy of the author is clear in the opening chapter, which presents a brief discussion of the nature of humankind and its place in the biological order. Humans have always been the dominant species; the question to be addressed, however, is how humans came to understand their relationship to other creatures. By what evolution of scientific thought did human beings come to accept their place in nature and gain a better understanding of the nature of all creatures? Shippen then brings her readers immediately to the story of “the first biologist,” Aristotle. Aristotle represents a paradigm of early Greek thought—or philosophy, as science was then called. Shippen’s biography...

(The entire section is 495 words.)