Scientists Who Changed the World Critical Essays

Gray Poole, Lynn Poole


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

By juxtaposing descriptions of several historical periods, the Pooles present a picture of entrenched resistance to new ideas. The young reader is led to wonder whether ignorance, superstition, and bigotry persist among scientific experts. Readers are asked to display the same type of innovative thinking that was expressed by these great minds.

It would be misleading, in talking about innovation and revolutionary thinking, to undervalue a fundamental fact that the Pooles emphasize in each case: These innovators worked from a foundation of the best education available at the time. Each one acquired degrees, and most of them several advanced degrees, and their schooling served as jumping-off points for their revolutionary thinking. They studied rigorously the ideas of those who had gone before in order to make use of that scholarship and build on it. It was often in this intense study of the research and thinking of others that they formulated the questions for which they would spend their entire lives finding satisfactory answers. By making this point so consistently in each chapter, the Pooles highlight a perspective that is valuable for young people, who often believe that learning about the past has little value for them.

One reviewer of the book was of the opinion that the Pooles were too simplistic in their presentations of the scientists, portraying them as “superhuman,” as rising above the prejudices of their time when in fact they were also bound by those prejudices. The accomplishments of these scientists, however, give evidence that they did indeed rise above the superstitious and bigoted thinking of those who preceded them. The Pooles clearly present sufficient evidence to show that these seventeen scientists earned the appellation “scientists who changed the world.”

In the preface to the book, the Pooles make a powerful point:[O]ur destiny has been and still is directed by a few men and women of genius. The ideas and vision of enterprising and imaginative thinkers have stimulated the minds of the multitude of understanding men whose creativity in turn results in the individual discoveries and leadership that ultimately affect our lives.

This statement implies another beneficial attitude for young people—that those who follow these geniuses have an honorable place in history as well and that those who put great ideas into everyday use are also to be respected.