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Free Books? February 13, 2008

Posted by Will Thomas in Uncategorized.

One thing’s that’s amazed me in the academic world is the ability to get free books. When I used to be a TA, I got free copies of the books used in the course. Then, a book review opportunity came my way, and I got a free copy of Hunter Crowther-Heyck’s biography of Herbert Simon (a nicely done book–I’d like to talk about it when I come back around to 20th century historiography). Then, lo and behold, yesterday a textbook mysteriously appears in my campus mailbox, Frederick Gregory’s Natural Science in Western History. Apparently publishers send professors books that they might consider assigning in their classes. For some reason, all this publisher largess still really strikes me as weird. (Being so recently out of grad school, where you generally have to pay for everything yourself, I’m pretty naive about the business world, and the extent to which people find it profitable to cover the expenses of others, and to give them free things of greater value than a keychain).

Anyway, this adds to the list of available textbooks one might use in a history of science course. I haven’t had a chance to look it over in detail, but it appears pretty comprehensive and has a sophisticated view of most things you’d want to talk about, though this diminishes as time passes. For instance, it’s clear we still can’t tell coherent narratives about 20th century science–this textbook (and the historiography in general) seems to imply that more than half of it had to do with atomic bombs.

But I don’t think I’d use this text, mainly because it looks like a science textbook or a high school history textbook, with sections only a few paragraphs in length, and some illustrations of experiments that look like they were done with Microsoft Paint. The reason I like Dear is because it’s a textbook that doesn’t feel like a textbook. It follows more in the vain of the better history overviews, like the aforementioned history of Ireland by R. F. Foster. And, according to my TA, the students are now showing that they’re entirely capable of handling the material in the more scholarly format it’s being presented in.



1. Brad - February 19, 2008

Just watch out for the sketchy book resellers who go around looking to buy up those free review copies, only to turn around and sell them for full price. They came around the geology department at ASU every year.

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