Shimer College, my alma mater, is considered one
of the Great Books colleges, of which there are only a
few. At Shimer, there is a core curriculum that every student must follow.
While this curriculum has been modified somewhat throughout the years, it
remains substantially the same as when I attended some 40 years ago.
The core curriculum includes a four course sequence in the natural sciences that
examines natural science in the context of its historical development. There
are labs, but the focus is more on the study of original sources, such as the
writings of scientists and philosophers who made significant contributions to
the history of science. Below are the reading lists from the four courses that
comprise the Natural Sciences sequence. Through this process Shimer students
come to understand not only how it is that we know what we know, but also why
we know it.
My years at Shimer certainly left me
with an appetite for books of all kinds, and my job as an editor of a review
journal keeps me connected to all of the best (and worst) of the new books. But
I retain a particular passion for the classics and thought it might be
interesting to give SB&F readers a glimpse into what science looks like at
a Great Books College by sharing the current reading lists from the Natural
Sciences sequence at Shimer College.
Natural Sciences 1 - The Laws and
Models of Chemistry
Philip Wheelwright, The Presocratics
Lucretius, On the Nature of the Universe
Antoine Lavoisier, Elements of Chemistry
Francis Bacon, New Organon
Stanislao Cannizzaro, Sketch of a Course in Chemical Philosophy
Selections from: Robert Boyle, Amedeo Avogadro, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, James
Prescott Joule, Blaise Pascal, Pierre Bulong, Georg Stahl,Joseph Priestly,
Bejamin Thompson, John Dalton.
Natural Sciences 2 - Evolution,
Genetics and Animal Behavior
Aristotle, On the Soul, Parts of
Charles Darwin, Origin of Species
Gregor Mendel, "Experiments in Plant Hybridization"
Konrad Lorenz, On Aggression
Jane Goodall, Through a Window
Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy
Stephen Jay Gould, The Panda's Thumb
Natural Sciences 3 - Light, Motion
and Scientific Explanation
Isaac Newton, Opticks, Philosophy
Albert Einstein and Leopold Infeld, Evolution of Physics
Albert Einstein, Relativity
Selections from: Galileo, Hans Christian Ørsted, Christiaan Huygens, Thomas
Young, Augustin-Jean Fresnel, C.F. du Fay, Benjamin Franklin, James Clerk
Natural Sciences 4 - Quantum Physics
and Molecular Biology
Erwin Schrödinger, What is Life?
Werner Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy
George Gamow, Thirty Years That Shook Physics
Richard Feynmann, QED
Freeman Dyson, Origins of Life
Lynn Margulis and Dorion Sagan, Origins of Sex: Three Billion Years of
These reading lists are not very
different from what they were when I attended Shimer. They form the basis of a
bond that I still share with many Shimer alumni from my era, many of whom went
on to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians. Surprisingly this
shared reading and reflection has also created a bond with the young Shimer
students of today, some of whom are featured in this video recently produced by the college. I mean,
how many other people do I know that can get my phlogiston references?
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18 Jul 2012 4:46 PM