415 pages, b/w illustrations
Today's global scientists are a resolutely monoglot community, using exclusively English – but its dominance was anything but inevitable and only very recent.
In a sweeping history, from the Middle Ages to the present day, Michael Gordin untangles the web of politics, money, personality and international conflict that led to this English-dominated world of science. He takes us on a journey from the fall of Latin to the rise of English, telling how we lost Dutch, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Esperanto and many other languages on the way. The significance of language in the nationalistic realm of science is astounding – for instance, just one mistranslated word triggered an inflammatory contest between Germany and Russia for the credit of having discovered the periodic table.
Intelligent, revealing and full of amazing stories. Scientific Babel shows that science isn't the universal quest for truth we thought, but rather the subject of political jockeying, national rivalry and fierce competition.
"Insightful, engaging and based on superb scholarship, lightly worn"
– Mark Viney, New Scientist
"He has hit on a marvellous idea and executed it with panache and laconic humour."
– John Gallagher, Guardian
"It is hard to imagine that anyone with even the slightest interest in science or language will fail to find this book a treat"
"Erudite and engaging"
"A slyly funny writer"
– New Republic
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Michael Gordin is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Princeton University where he specialises in the history of the modern sciences. A polyglot, he speaks Russian, German, French, English, among many other languages, and learned Esperanto and Ido to research this book.