A radical retelling of the history of science that challenges the Eurocentric narrative.
We are told that modern science was invented in Europe, the product of great minds like Nicolaus Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. But this is wrong. Science is not, and has never been, a uniquely European endeavour.
Copernicus relied on mathematical techniques borrowed from Arabic and Persian texts. When Newton set out the laws of motion, he relied on astronomical observations made in Asia and Africa. When Darwin was writing On the Origin of Species, he consulted a sixteenth-century Chinese encyclopaedia. And when Einstein was studying quantum mechanics, he was inspired by the Bengali physicist, Satyendra Nath Bose. Horizons pushes beyond Europe, exploring the ways in which scientists from Africa, America, Asia and the Pacific fit into the history of science, and arguing that it is best understood as a story of global cultural exchange.
Challenging both the existing narrative and our perceptions of revered individuals, above all this is a celebration of the work of scientists neglected by history. Among many others, we meet Graman Kwasi, the seventeenth-century African botanist who discovered a new cure for malaria, Hantaro Nagaoka, the nineteenth-century Japanese scientist who first described the structure of the atom, and Zhao Zhongyao, the twentieth-century Chinese physicist who discovered antimatter (but whose American colleague received the Nobel prize).
Scientists today are quick to recognise the international nature of their work. In this ambitious and revisionist history, James Poskett reveals that this tradition goes back much further than we think.
James Poskett is an Associate Professor in the History of Science and Technology at the University of Warwick. He completed his PhD at the University of Cambridge where he also held the Adrian Research Fellowship at Darwin College. Poskett has written for the Guardian, Nature, and BBC History Magazine, among others, and his research has taken him across the world, from astronomical observatories in India to natural history museums in Australia. In 2013 he was shortlisted for the BBC New Generation Thinker Award and in 2012 he was awarded the Best Newcomer Prize by the Association of British Science Writers. He is the author of the academic book, Materials of the Mind, and Horizons is his first for a general readership.
"This treasure trove of a book puts the case persuasively and compellingly that modern science did not develop solely in Europe. Hugely important"
– Jim Al-Khalili, author of Paradox
"This perspective-shattering book challenges our Eurocentric narrative by spotlighting the work of historically neglected scientists"
– Caroline Sanderson, The Bookseller, 'Editor's Choice'
"Brilliant [...] In this revolutionary and revelatory book, James Poskett not only gives us a truly worldwide history of science, but explains how international connections have stimulated scientific advances through time"
– Alice Roberts, author of Ancestors
"From palatial Aztec botanic gardens to Qing Dynasty evolutionary theories, Horizons upends traditional accounts of the history of science, showing how curiosity and intellectual exploration was, and is, a global phenomenon"
– Rebecca Wragg Sykes, author of Kindred
"Remarkable. Challenges almost everything we know about science in the West"
– Jerry Brotton, author of A History of the World in 12 Maps
"A useful corrective that brings us closer to a more accurate history of Western science – one which recognises Europe, not as exceptional, but as learning from the world"
– Angela Saini, author of Superior
"The righting of the historical record makes Horizons a deeply satisfying read. We learn about a fascinating group of people engaged in scientific inquiry all over the world. Even more satisfyingly, Horizons demonstrates that the most famous scientists – Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein among them – couldn't have made their discoveries without the help of their global contacts"
– Valerie Hansen, author of The Year 1000
"A provocative examination of major contributions to science made outside Europe and the USA, from ancient to modern times, explained in relation to global historical events. I particularly enjoyed the stories of individuals whose work tends to be omitted from standard histories of science"
– Ian Stewart, author of Significant Figures
"A wonderful, timely reminder that scientific advancement is, and has always been, a global endeavour"
– Patrick Roberts, author of Jungle
"This is the kind of history we need: it opens our eyes to the ways in which what we know today has been uncovered thanks to a worldwide team effort"
– Michael Scott, author of Ancient Worlds