For information from the publisher, see http://www.murdochbooks.com.au/100disc.htm.
This book is written for general readers, and my aim was to take a look at the inflection points in science, the key discoveries that made science what it is, and made us human. My criterion in selecting topics was that they allowed something else to happen. Glass, for example, because it gave us laboratory-ware, lenses, culture dishes and much more. Even the cathode ray tubes that let us discover the electron, measure things with a CRO and have television, all of those relied on glass. So glass was in.
I begin the story with a bunch of basics: speech, writing, agriculture, food preservation, metals, glass, pottery: these all interacted and made us settle down in communities or allowed us to do so.
Then came the basic machinery stuff: gears, levers, water wheel, rocket and the idea of atoms. You may detect that this is a less than total listing if I tell you that by number 20, we have reached anatomy and moveable type: the order is roughly but not perfectly chronological as we progress, because something like genetics could be dated in 1859 when Gregor Mendel started doing his experiments or in 1901 when people saw what he had done.
Moving right along, we see the invention of the thermometer, the telescope, photosynthesis, the barometer, the microscope, photosynthesis, understanding how gravity works, the light spectrum, calculus, superposition in geology, electricity, the telegraph (earlier than you may have thought, classification and vaccination. We are up to number 40, and we have just reached 1800.
The electric cell (battery), electric light, electrolysis, electromagnets, understanding fossils. catalysis, the age of the planet and ice ages bring us to halfway, and 1835.
Between then and 1857, people discovered gutta percha (what??—read the book!), energy, immunology, anaesthetics, they started measuring the speed of light accurately, photography, epidemiology and organic dyes.
The late 1850s, everything went mad. Darwinian evolution, oil wells, the internal combustion engine, the spectroscope, statistics, genetics, antisepsis, the periodic table.
Then came the telephone, the art of identifying germs, alternating currents were tamed, nutrition was discovered, radio waves, X-rays, liquid helium, and we are just about to 1900 and number 80.
The second last set of ten includes plastics, relativity, quantum physics, hormones, atomic structure and the basics of human evolution from Australopithecus, antibiotics and the expanding universe.
The last set includes atomic power, the transistor, DNA, integrated circuits, seafloor spreading, the cosmic background radiation and the Big Bang, the true cause of ulcers, extrasolar planets and PCR.
If your favourite appears to be missing, fear not, because I have shoehorned in a number of other inventions and discoveries as background -- and this list is incomplete.
No two experts would ever agree on a standard one hundred, and I am quite sure that those with special concerns will want to promote other topics. All I can say is that each of the discoveries I have listed has changed the way we are today.
This book is in production. Last I heard, it was to be released in the USA in December 2008, in Australia in February 2009 and in the UK in March 2009.
This file is http://members.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/writing/100greats.htm
It was created on February 19, 2008 and last revised on December 26, 2009.
The home page of this set is here.