Post-classical history


There is now a good deal of scholarship devoted to medieval science but much of it is written with the specialist in mind. The books recommended in this section are intended as possible next steps for non-academic readers wishing to explore some of the issues raised in this book.

The standard textbook on medieval science is David C. Lindberg, The Beginnings of Western Science, second edition (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007). This is an excellent introduction covering both ancient and medieval natural philosophy. Unfortunately, it is very obviously a textbook for university students and as a result rather dry. The articles in Science in the Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978) present much more detail on the individual subjects that made up science in the Middle Ages. Marcia L. Colish, Medieval Foundations of the Western Intellectual Tradition, 400–1400 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1997) is a comprehensive and fascinating introduction to all aspects of medieval culture. On the history of medicine, Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present (London: HarperCollins, 1998) covers the subject thoroughly. Arthur Koestler, The Sleepwalkers: A History of Man’s Changing Vision of the Universe(Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1990) is a novelist’s biography of Copernicus, Kepler and Galileo, but the short medieval section is woefully inaccurate.

A complete history of science from prehistory to the present is James McClellan, Science and Technology in World History: An Introduction (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999). For scientific enterprise in Islam, Ehsan Masood, Science and Islam: A History (Icon Books, 2009) and Howard Turner, Science in Medieval Islam: An Illustrated Introduction (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1995) are both enjoyable and reliable. Toby Huff, The Rise of Early Modern Science: Islam, China and the West, second edition (Cambridge University Press, 2003) is controversial and not always dependable, but a brave attempt to find what made western science unique.

On the relationship between science and religion, good articles can be found in the two collections God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986) and When Science & Christianity Meet (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003). The articles in Galileo Goes to Jail and Other Myths about Science and Religion (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009) attempt to dispel some of the misinformation on this subject. Edward Peters, Inquisition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989) deals with both the myth and the reality of the notorious institution.

Finally, some academic books are just so good and so well written that they deserve as wide an audience as possible. M.T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Oxford: Blackwell, 1997) brings the twelfth century alive. Francis Yates, Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition (London: Routledge Classics, 2002) explains the alien world of the Renaissance magicians better than anything else. Lynn White, Medieval Technology and Social Change (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1966) revolutionised the study of medieval technology. David Wootton, Bad Medicine: Doctors Doing Harm Since Hippocrates (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006) is probably the most important book ever written on the history of medicine and is fantastically readable.

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