Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Was Einstein the only scientist?

Berkeley has a huge bookstore called "Half-price books" which sells used books. I often go in there and browse through the popular-science section. Interestingly, about half of the section is filled with books about/by Einstein! Of course, Einstein was a great scientist and one can expect to find quite a few books - but the fact that Einstein dominates the section so much as to make books about every other scientist nonexistent was surprising. Exaggeration and overgeneralization based on the number of books yield the following conclusions:
  1. Mathematics is extremely unpopular and/or unscientific. The only books present in the section are books which brush up your formulae from high-school algebra.
  2. Chemistry does not exist.
  3. Genome, black-holes and relativity are the "really cool" things.


anu said...

Interesting observations!
Next question would be, so what does this tell you about the American culture/attitude when it comes to reading for knowledge/info/other reasons? Do books follow the same pattern as every other commodity in the American market - by popular demand?!

Tom said...

Popular books on chemistry are indeed rare - which just reminds me of the debates on the position of chemistry among sciences that I came across in chemistry blogs after the nobel...(You can see this post for further links)

And, about the rest(Genes/Relativity) apart from being real "cool" things(or should it be "because of being real "cool" things" ? ), they're widely misunderstood ...

Anyway, since you're looking at used books, I will putforth a hypothesis to explain the dominance of Einstein - To quote orwell,"it is always fairly easy to sell Dickens, just as it is always easy to sell Shakespeare. Dickens is one of those authors whom people are ‘always meaning to’ read, and, like the Bible, he is widely known at second hand."

I think, we can extend it to surmise that lots of people buy books on Einstein which end up unread in the used books stores.

David Molnar said...

Remind me to show you McIntyre & Moore books in Somerville, Massachusetts sometime. There's a slightly different selection of math books there. Indeed, from their stock, you might be forgiven for thinking that all of mathematics consists of linear programming, logic, and analysis...