Cosmic imagery: Key images in the history of science

Cosmic imagery: Key images in the history of science

John D Barrow

London, UK: Bodley Head 2008 | 608pp | ?25.00 (HB) ISBN 978024075237

Reviewed by Michael Ball


If you would like to give a lovely book to someone this Christmas this could be it. It is a beautiful visual experience containing many of the epochal images in science. Most books centre on the text with pictures being used to illustrate the words, and perhaps also to break up the text. This book, however, starts with the pictures, and the text is really a commentary of the pictures, expounding their significance in the history of science.

Not all the images are photographs - there are also diagrams from manuscripts, paintings, computer-generated images, charts, postage stamps, microscope close-ups etc.

With Barrow’s principal interests being in the areas of mathematics, astronomy and physics these subjects are given prominence but there are also some images from the chemical sciences, especially in the last section of the book entitled Mind over matter. Here images relating to the Periodic table, the benzene ring, the DNA double helix and protein macromolecules are discussed. 

As a great fan of popular mathematics I enjoyed the images. and their associated text on fractals, symmetry, the Mobius strip, prime numbers and Venn diagrams to name just a few. I also enjoyed the section on astronomy with all those impressive Hubble images. 

But whatever your scientific interest you will find something fascinating on most pages of this book - ideal for thumbing through as you relax over the holiday period.