Michael D. Gordin (2015)

Scientific Babel

The Language of Science from the Fall of Latin to the Rise of English

London: Profile Books.

Today scientists are a resolutely monoglot community, using exclusively English - but the rise of English was anything but inevitable and only very recent. In a sweeping history, from the Middle Ages through to today, Michael Gordin untangles the web of politics, money, personality and international conflict that led to the English language dominated world of science we now inhabit. He takes us on a journey from the fall of Latin to the rise of English, telling how we lost Dutch, Italian, Swedish and many other languages on the way. The significance of language in the nationalistic realm of science is astounding - just one word mistranslated into German from Russian, triggered an inflammatory contest between Germany and Russia for the credit of having discovered the periodic table. In Michael’s hands we see that science isn’t the universal quest for truth we thought, but rather the subject of political jockeying, national rivalry, and fierce competition. Intelligent, revealing and full of amazing stories, Scientific Babel shows how the world has remade science just as much as science has transformed the world.