50 Years Ago
What Man May Be: The Human Side of Science by George Russell Harrison — It has been estimated that each year sees the discovery of at least one million new scientific facts. Very few of us who are scientists have the capacity to digest more than a minute fraction of this feast, and to see the pattern to which it contributes. Yet we are vastly better off than the non-scientists, whose main contact with science is "through its slums, the half-world of such things as flying saucers and water dowsing"... This is an excellent book to give to almost anyone who wants to understand that science has changed both the things we do, and the way we think. There is not a dull moment in it, and probably most of those who do read it will catch something of the infectious optimism that underlies each page. Onward and upward in the best of all possible worlds.
From Nature 4 January 1958.
100 Years Ago
"The inheritance of 'acquired' characters" (Sur la Transmissibilité de Charactères acquis) by Eugene Rignano — A man of science to command general attention and interest must do two things; first, he must make interesting discoveries or profound generalisations; and secondly, he must do things at the right time. Darwin made his name because he fulfilled both conditions. Mendel died an unknown man because he did not fulfil the second. He was forty years too soon ... If it is possibly fatal to make discoveries too soon, it is certainly fatal to make them too late. It is therefore with a certain sense of weariness, mingled with surprise, that we note the appearance of a work on the transmission of acquired characters ... The author of the book before us, who is an engineer interested in sociology, believes in the transmission of acquirements, and has invented a theory of centro-epigenesis to account for the phenomenon.
From Nature 2 January 1908.