Scientists Behind the Inventors Analysis
Scientists Behind the Inventors is a book with a mission: It is a tool to recruit young people into the field of science. In his introductory chapter, Burlingame decries the United States’ indifference to basic scientific research, its preoccupation with application, its negative attitude toward scientists, and its lack of recognition of the advances being made by the Soviet Union. He attacks the United States’ ignorance of what was going on in the Soviet Union and praises the Soviet government’s commitment to education and practice of rewarding achievement in research. Writing explicitly in response to the Soviet space program, he calls for more American effort in basic scientific research. He suggests cutting back on extracurricular activities in school so that more time can be spent on science. Recognizing that American young adults cannot be ordered to become scientists, Burlingame offers two reasons that basic scientific research is fascinating: First, there is the excitement of discovering new ideas and phenomena, and second, such research can lead to practical results. There are both personal and societal rewards from basic research.
At the conclusion of the book, Burlingame again addresses the reader, specifically the young adult perhaps on the threshold of a career in science who is tempted but still not certain. He suspects that it is the fear of the routine nature of scientific research that is holding this person back. Burlingame responds by quoting Einstein’s comparison of the most beautiful with the mysterious, as well as Einstein’s belief that the mysterious is the source of true science. By linking science with the mysterious, and ultimately with the most beautiful things experienced by humans, Burlingame hopes to persuade the reader that scientific research can be pleasurable.
The seven biographical accounts all emphasize the twin themes of the thrill of discovery and the practical applications of those discoveries for the human race. Some chapters conclude by reiterating how wonderful and rewarding the lives of the scientists had been. The chapter on the Curies, for example, concludes that their story was “a fairy tale beyond [Marie Curie’s] most fanciful dreams.” Others re-emphasize the practical contributions of these scientists, especially to the growth of the United States.
A third theme, hinted at in the introduction, is the normality of scientists. Burlingame goes out of his way to emphasize that these individuals were “wholly normal”—there was “nothing ‘longhaired’ or eccentric” about them. They are described as being popular with their peers and members of...
(The entire section is 624 words.)