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Saturday, January 4, 2014

Before the World Was Ready, witten by Claire Eamer and illustrated by Sa Boothroyd. Annick Press, 2013. $14.95 ages 9 and up

"In those days, doctors rarely washed their hands before moving from one patient to another. In First Clinic, where they worked in the morgue as well, both the doctors and students might go from dissecting a patient dead of childbirth fever straight to examining a woman in the middle of giving birth, all without washing their hands or changing their stained clothes."

Be prepared to learn something new when you read this book...or many new things. I  know that is exactly what happened to me. We must be grateful that there are, and were, people willing to go against everything that others believe to bring a new idea to the world. Claire Eamer has meticulously researched eight transformational advances in science, and some of the scientists who did just that. They stood the scientific world on its ear with ideas that were ahead of their time, and often discounted by the establishment. What did it cost them to stand up for their beliefs?

In each of the eight chapters, the author lets her readers see how the new ideas evolved. She puts her focus on one idea and one remarkable mind, the discoveries that they made and how those discoveries were based on other's work. Yet, the ideas they shared with their colleagues were not taken seriously and often placed on a back burner at the time. Today, their work is heralded for its ingenuity and is accepted within the scientific and world community:

"At the time of Wegener's death, his theory was still considered fictional nonsense by most of the scientific world. Geology students were warned that talking about continental drift could put an end to their academic careers. It would take another 30 years, and some new tools, before his idea of continental drift was confirmed. In the 1950s and early 1960s, scientists used sound waves to map the sea floor, where molten rock welled up from the cracks in the seabed...The new evidence showed that Wegener was right: the continents do indeed move."

The disgust shown for their ideas may have cowed less determined and brilliant scholars. They endured far too much. We learn that as we read their life stories and come to know them a little bit better. Informative, accessible and endlessly interesting, this is a book that is sure to find rapt readers. The writing is clear and accompanied by an index, a selected bibliography, an appendix and an excellent list for those who want to read more.

Ms. Boothroyd's colorful, detailed illustrations are strategically placed throughout the text, and add interest and humor.

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