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the Complete Review
the complete review - science / translation

Science in Translation

Scott L. Montgomery

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To purchase Science in Translation

Title: Science in Translation
Author: Scott L. Montgomery
Genre: Science
Written: 2000
Length: 297 pages
Availability: Science in Translation - US
Science in Translation - UK
Science in Translation - Canada
  • Movements of Knowledge through Cultures and Time
  • Several chapters previously appeared, in different form, in Science as Culture
  • Some of the chapters "represent reworked and expanded material" from Montgomery's earlier work, The Scientific Voice (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : useful, thorough introduction to the transmission of scientific texts through the ages

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
American Scientist . 9-10/2000 Monica H. Green

  From the Reviews:
  • "This is a book that will reward the patient reader, although it may frustrate others. In some respects it is too full, in others too meager. Montgomery is generous in the details he offers of these various scientific traditions and presents a masterful synthesis of scholarly literature from a variety of fields. (...) On the other hand, the richness of detail that Montgomery offers might have been better balanced by more general synthesis and attention to larger historiographic questions." - Monica H. Green, American Scientist

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Knowledge is not as readily passed on as one might imagine. It is easily transformed in the copying, the re-telling, in translation, in being presented in a different context. Scott L. Montgomery tackles a number of these issues in Science in Translation, focussing on how science has been passed down through the ages, usually via other cultures. It is a fascinating journey.
       With the rise and fall of civilizations, scientific knowledge has moved across cultures and languages. Greek thought (and science), for example, moved from Greece to Rome to the Arabic world, and then back to the West, constantly transformed in the process. The Aristotle of today, Montgomery reminds his readers, is "a fiction, or rather a construct". Science in Translation follows the creation of this and other constructs.
       Montgomery proceeds chronologically, focussing on how cultures have taken scientific knowledge and adapted it to their own. Translation has usually been central to this. His first chapter looks at how the Romans took over Greek thought, before moving eastwards and looking at the transmission of specifically astronomical texts in the Syriac and Persian areas.
       In the third chapter Montgomery chronicles the rise of Arabic science, showing the continued strong influence of Hellenic thought yet also tracing the transformations it has undergone. From there the knowledge circles back to the West, as medieval scholars transform the knowledge preserved and added by the Arabic scholars.
       Montgomery provides an excellent survey of the transmission of this knowledge, following the trail and the changes very closely (and making, occasionally, for some dry reading). The story of the difficulties of translation -- of how it was practiced, and what played a role in the preservation of specific texts -- is of particular interest, and Montgomery presents this very well.
       In the second part of the book Montgomery focusses on Japanese science, reworking material that originally appeared in The Scientific Voice (see our review). Isolated Japan long did not permit any foreign material into the country. The relatively recent influx of scientific knowledge is thus fairly easy to trace. In addition, aspects of the Japanese language (especially the written language, with the ideogrammatic Chinese-based kanji and the two variations on syllabic representation, hiragana and katakana) make for interesting choices in the presentation of foreign material for a Japanese audience.
       Montgomery again offers a useful and detailed historical overview, following the gradual and initially very limited inflow of Western material into Japan. The small Jesuit toehold in Japan was one of the few means of getting any foreign material into Japan until, basically, the 19th century. Montgomery points out that the Jesuits in Japan were mainly interested in evangelical matters and did not import much scientific work, comparing them to the similarly situated Jesuits in China, who did. However, the material that the Jesuits translated into Chinese was carefully edited, presenting a worldview that was inaccurate. By rewriting the astronomical texts (rather than simply translating them ) "the Jesuits helped make the Earth stand still in China".
       Montgomery then follows the transformation of science as Japan opened up and took in knowledge from abroad -- first especially from Holland, and then from elsewhere. It is an interesting odyssey, and Montgomery describes the main issues of translation that were involved very well.
       In the last part of the book, Montgomery considers "issues and examples for the study of scientific translation today", a useful overview. Montgomery reminds readers that translation is "a formative influence in the making of scientific knowledge". He raises interesting questions and points to significant issues that must still be addressed and considered.
       Montgomery is right that too little attention has been paid to questions of translation in the transmission of scientific knowledge. His thorough and detailed survey of a number of significant instances of the movement of scientific knowledge across cultures shows the value of such a focus. The arguments and examples are well-presented, and the book is fascinating both in its details and in the larger issues addressed.

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Science in Translation: Reviews: Other books by Scott L. Montgomery under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American geologist Scott L. Montgomery has written several books.

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