An introductory book can be a tricky customer: either too light on content to do anything more than whet the appetite, or weighed down with so much content that it becomes an unreadable fact sheet. Time Lewens has steered the narrow middle way through the two, partly by splitting The Meaning of Science into two parts. The first introduces the reader to the key facts, historical figures and background of the philosophy of science and the second part takes them out for a walk, to show how the knowledge he’s explaining effects some interesting area of science.
Lewens argues persuasively why you’d want to understand the philosophy behind science and arms the reader with enough knowledge to head off and find out more — especially helped by the Further Reading lists at the end of each section. The facts are wrapped into interesting narratives and arguments, which left me feeling enthusiastic about finding out more rather than worn out by trying to get a grasp of new facts, terminology and concepts. And my copy is now bristling with post-its, dog-eared pages and penciled notes. Normally I’m not one to deface a book, but something about the Pelican’s calls for a more hands on reading experience. Certainly after being carried around in a handbag for a few weeks it gets rather worn looking — the lovely uncoated cover picks up scuff and smudges and the corners are quickly worn down. But it’s a tactile pocket sized book that seems meant to be read thoroughly and used, not just admired. The scuffs prove that it’s no just on the shelf for show.
Now that I’m in the final chapter of the book, I’m hoping that Lewens is working on another accessible science book that continues on from The Meaning of Science. Either to go into more depth of the philosophy — for it did feel like quite a concise introduction to a large topic — or to bring his very lucid and balanced approach to other contentious areas of modern science. However first I’m going to be off to find my next Pelican.