Monday, November 27, 2017

Joy Hakim's "Aristotle Leads the Way"

Intended for children, The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way by Joy Hakim has many small problems throughout but remains valuable for its sense of life. The author encourages understanding, exploration, discovery, and the integration of knowledge. You can find it remaindered online at prices low enough to gift an entire class of 5th graders, if you choose. Though intended for youngsters, nothing is dumbed down. So the book is enjoyable at an adult level.

The Story of Science: Aristotle Leads the Way 
by Joy Hakim, Smithsonian Books, 2004.
 The consistent problem is the lack of nuance and insight. Joy Hakim just repeats common claims about the ancient Greeks and science in the Middle Ages. She mentions Hypatia of Alexandria, but says nothing about her being the likely last and best editor of Ptolemy’s work. She never acknowledges Aspasia of Miletus. And like almost everyone else, she accepts and asserts that the ancient philosophers did not think it necessary to test theories but attempted all knowledge through pure logic.

Despite those problems and their consequences in presentations from cover to cover, the rich array of integrated facts should deliver years of engagement and encouragement to a young learner. Hakim does more than note the milestones; she reminds the reader of the road just traveled; and she looks to the next horizon.

Detail of Raphael's School at Athens.
Plato points to the sky,
Aristotle reaches for the world.
Through lavish illustrations, and insightful narratives, she presents the mathematics needed at a level that can be grasped with arithmetic and geometry. Among the very many are the Pythagorean theorem (of course), how Aristarchus estimated the distance to the Moon, Democritus’s formula for the volume of a cone, the true nature of the cone as explained by Apollonius of Perga, and the work done by the lever of Archimedes. Occasional timelines remind us that knowledge is passed across generations to those who cared to learn or rediscover.

Writing about Thomas Aquinas, “An ‘Ox’ Who Bellowed” (Chapter 20), Hakim says:
“In the thirteenth century, Paris is the place to be, if you like tumult and activity. While most of Europe is still feudal, Paris is the center of an emerging market economy. Old ideas are being blown away. … Change is both energizing and upsetting. The feudal world was known. What a free, capitalist world might be like is unknown. It seems to offer little security or control. But there is no stopping the new forces. … In the monasteries, clerics are focused on saving their souls through prayer study and isolation. When it comes to science, they quote Pythagoras, Plato, and Augustine. That trio all concentrated, in one way or another, on ideal forms in nature, which often kept them from considering the real world. But at the budding universities, new scholars, inspired by the rediscovery of Greek science, are interested in understanding the forces of nature. Those new scholars are fascinated by Aristotle. Aristotle looked at the world about him and observed, made notes, and classified its inhabitants—plant and animal.” (page 229-230)
—NSTA Recommends
Teacher’s Guide


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