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Book Series Aims to Spark Interest in Science Through Storytelling


The Story of Science is a multivolume series written to fight science illiteracy in the information age. The books by education writer Joy Hakim read like adventure stories, so readers absorb the information without realizing they're learning.

Hakim uses her computer and cell phone every day and admits she had no knowledge of the basic principles behind them.

"We live in the greatest scientific era ever, and I found that I was among those who are scientifically illiterate," she says. "I really didn't know what was going on when people said 'quantum theory and relativity.'"

A former reporter, Hakim says she decided to use her journalistic skills to explore and write about science.

"There are two kinds of writing. Some people write out of expertise. Other people write to learn," she says. "I was a journalist, so I'm not intimidated by any subject. I just write the story. I weave scientific principles into the stories."

The result is a new educational series, The Story of Science. Her first three volumes focus on physics.

"Physics is the basic science of our time, the science that most of our technology is coming out of," she says. "I started with the physics questions that Greeks asked way back about the universe: where the stars came from, what are they? I started with Pythagoras and Archimedes."

The first book is titled Aristotle Leads the Way. Hakim says ancient Greece was the best place to start her story about science.

"The great gift that the Greeks gave the world was their interest in pure thinking. It didn't happen anywhere else," she says. "The [ancient] Chinese should have led the way to modern science. And the reason that they didn't is because they were pragmatic. If the government is going to pay for or support scientific research, the rulers want some results, something concrete for their money. That was true all over the world.

"The one place that was unique was Greece, where Plato and Aristotle and the great thinkers just loved thinking for its sake, and the community supported that."

In the second book of the series, Newton at the Center, Hakim explores gravity, motion and light through the life and work of great classic physicists like Copernicus, Galileo and Isaac Newton. She turns to the life and work of modern physicists in Einstein Adds a New Dimension. Hakim says this volume was exceptionally exciting to write.

"Most people have known the name of Einstein, but they really don't understand what he did," she says. "Einstein was such a wonderful character. He was kind of fun. So I tell his stories, his problems.

"He was the only graduate of his class who couldn't get a job. He had a habit of annoying his professors. He struggled to find answers to questions. So I describe all that and try to explain simply the physics that goes with it."

One of the aspects Hakim explores in Einstein's life and work is his relationship with another scientist of his age, the Danish physicist Niels Bohr, who lived in Copenhagen.

"Neils Bohr, next to Einstein, was one of the greatest minds of the 20th century," she says. "He and Einstein, they were friends but, but all their lives they had fought over ideas.

"In one occasion, after Einstein was given his Nobel Prize, he took a boat to an harbor in Copenhagen, and Neils Bohr was there waiting to meet him. So they got on a tram to get to Neils Bohr's house, and they started arguing. They were tense over ideas. When they looked up, the tram had taken them to almost the end of the line.

"So they got out, crossed the track and got on another tram to go back. They started arguing again, and when they looked up they were back, way past Bohr's house. So these two brilliant minds couldn't figure out how to ride a tram."

Hakim says she believes this approach of telling stories, not just facts, makes science a more engaging topic.

"I hope that we begin teaching the ideas behind science," she says. "In the United States, we have wonderful science classes with a lot of hands-on science, a lot of experimentation. It's fun. Kids love it. But these experiments, if not tied to thoughts and to ideas, they are just meaningless, and kids quickly forget them."

Hakim's previous work, Freedom: A History of Us, was widely praised. The 10-volume American history series sold about 5 million copies. But Hakim says she has enjoyed writing about science more than any other topic. She continues to explore scientific concepts and stories in the next three books in the series, which focus on geology and biology.

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