the guardian Sat 15 January 2011
Sleigh, a historian of science, is not merely interested in finding "the science bits" in literature. Rather she focuses on the way novels provide an experimental space in which the knowledge of science can be tested and explored. In particular, she argues that it is through the form of novels that the reader "can understand and even participate in the construction of the meaning of science". Despite CP Snow's fears about the so-called "two cultures", literature and science have always existed in a close relationship, and Sleigh shows that the dialogue between the two can reveal the historical reception of scientific ideas and help frame the debate about what kind of science we want: "Literature is how we decide what matters to us, and what matters to us will determine nothing less than the future of science." From Swift's Gulliver's Travels and Goethe's wonderful exploration of chemistry and human relations, Elective Affinities, to the novels of DeLillo and Franzen, this is an erudite and eloquent introduction to a fascinating field.