Before the World Was Ready: Stories of Daring Genius in Science by Claire Eamer; art by Sa Boothroyd (Annick Press, 2013) tells the stories of a few scientists who had ideas that were not accepted. These scientists were correct, but the world did not accept their writing or the scientists lived before technology had been invented that would allow them to succeed in their own inventions. The stories told are fascinating, and the tone of the book is amusing and accessible to the middle-grade reader.
I loved seeing scientists from the perspective of the ways that they were not accepted in their era. Both Copernicus, who wrote about the heliocentric (sun-centered) solar system, and Charles Darwin, who wrote about evolution, were seen as a heretics and they hesitated to write their ideas for the public, knowing they would not be accepted. Semmelweis insisted that doctors (who also performed autopsies on the dead) wash hands, and people believed he was wasting their time. And Rachel Carson wrote about the negative affects of insecticides on the environment, knowing full well that it would get her in to trouble.
I also learned a lot about some other scientists. Alfred Wegener proposed the ideas of continental drift in 1912, and was only scoffed at. (Part of that problem was he did not know why the continents were moving.) I was fascinated by the journey toward the first powered flight; much of the problem was that fuel-powered machines had not been invented, and steam engines are far too heavy!
Nikola Tesla’s ideas were likewise fascinating. If only people had believed him, we may have had electronics much sooner than we did. He even had ideas for something similar to the internet! Charles Babbage likewise had amazing ideas about electronics, but others would get the glory of making a computer after his death. I was surprised to learn that the “adding machine” he designed (and not put together until modern times) actually worked!
I must also add a note about the illustrations. They were hilarious! They had puns. They illustrated the scientists doing the least important things (but also thinking or underscoring the main point). They made fun of the scientists (reverently). The illustrations, then, were a delightful side of the book that kept it fun, rather than overly serious.
All together, Before the World Was Ready is a fun book for kids interested in history and science. I hope I can get my son to read it, because I know he will enjoy it!
Digital review copy.