Scientists Behind the Inventors Critical Context - Essay

Roger Burlingame

Critical Context

Scientists Behind the Inventors is excellent propaganda that is only moderately successful as a work of history. Burlingame believed strongly that American attitudes toward basic science had crippled America’s ability to compete in the second half of the twentieth century. The image of the intellectual as someone who was weird, even abnormal, was discouraging American young adults from pursuing a career in science. By presenting the scientist as hero and science as fun and personally rewarding, he tried to give intellectual activity status in his country. Because Burlingame was very open as to his motivations in writing the book, some of the defects of the book can be forgiven. The use of fictionalized conversation to make a point or the exaggeration of the significance of an event because it fits into Burlingame’s concept of science is not surprising. The factual errors that appear probably reflect Burlingame’s poor decisions in selecting sources rather than an intent to falsify the record.

As a history of science, or a collection of scientific biographies, Scientists Behind the Inventors has long been superseded, as much more is known about the subject. As a vehicle to introduce young adults to the joy and rewards of fundamental scientific research, however, it is unsurpassed.