Surprisingly, this was actually a good book. The author showed slightly more open-mindedness than I expected, with him a secular writer often treating religious individuals like Newton.
Like most good Jewish intellectuals talking about Arabs/Islam, Steven couldn’t help himself mentioning Sayyid Qutb and proving himself a complete ignoramus about this complex character (memoirist, literary critic, social activist, revolutionary), adopting NYT’s opinions about him right from the can. His treatment of Qutb is as unfair as my treating Steven as if he had the intellectual sophistication of your average Tel Aviv falafel vendor.
To Explain the World makes for some entertaining light reading. It is not a powerful philosophical treatise meant to prove a particular point. It is a fun survey of the history of science and treats topics that any science lover would enjoy rereading about, though don’t expect to learn anything new.
I enjoyed his refusal to take post-modernist social scientific theories seriously. This deserves some respect in a mainstream scientist, though a better scientist of Steven’s status and fame could have used this book to launch a powerful and history-making attack on the field of science revisionism. But I do not blame an old man for not wanting to get involved in academic bickering.