Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Unfinished Business of Science

The book I've been searching for, "The Next Hundred Years: The Unfinished Business of Science" by C. C. Furnas, has finally arrived. Furnas, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Yale University, published the book in 1936 as an expression of his disappointment with the Chicago World's Fair billed as "A Century of Progress."  As I've mentioned in previous posts, I read the book when I was a kid (my Dad had a copy ) and have been thinking how interesting it would be to review the book now that over three quarters of a century have passed since it was written.

The book has 31 chapters divided into five parts.  I propose to review what has (and has not) been achieved of his proposals and what developments have occurred that he had not anticipated. This will take some time and research. I plan to review the book by part, but if that proves to be too big an undertaking, I will tackle it by chapter.

The book is divided as follows:

Part One:  Biology
I. The Battle of Eugenics
II. What is Life?
III. Our Chemical Masters
IV. Infectious Diseases
V. Food
VI. The Whole Man
VII. What of Death
VIII. The Six-Legged Pests
IX. The Poor Plants and Ailing Animals
X. The Price of Progress

Part Two:  Chemistry
XI. Synthetics
XII. Solvents
XIII. Outdoing Nature

Part Three: Physics
XIV: What's New in the Nucleus?
XV. Energy for the Taking
XVI. The Newer Elements
XVII. The Scholar's Haven

Part Four: Engineering
XVIII. The Road Ahead
XIX: Labor-Saving
XX. Power
XXI. Light
XXIII. Communication
XXIV. Our Mineral Resources
XXV. The Perfect Farm
XXVI. Agriculture as Industry
XXVII. Food Manufacture
XVIII. Making the Best of Weather

Part Five: Social Consequences
XXIX: The Risen Tide of Invention
XXX: Leisure Without Lethargy
XXXI. The Life of Assurance

To get a feel for the historical context in which the exposition occurred and the book was written, note that this was in the middle of the Great Depression. The construction of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco started in 1933.  Adolf Hitler came to power in the same year, and Albert Einstein, who was visiting the US, could not return to Germany.  The book was published a few years before the start of World War II.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Book Hunt

Recent articles about "Back to the Future" assessing how much of its predictions came true got me thinking about The Next Hundred years: The Unfinished Business of Sciencby C. C. Furnas. My Dad had this book but somehow it got lost. The San Jose Public Library has a copy, but I wanted my own. This was as much about happy memories of my Dad as curiosity about how much has changed since it was written.   I stopped by +Bell's Books in Palo Alto today on an impulse to inquire if they had it. I had a wonderful conversation about books with Faith Bell. She didn't have the book, but gave suggestions where to look. On impulse again, I checked Amazon and surprisingly (I had checked before and didn't find it) they had it!  So of course I ordered it, and after I've reread it, I will write about it.