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David J. Rhees, Chapel Hill - 1979
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By the time Edwin Slosson died in 1929, his writings were reaching millions of readers through the publications of Science Service, and he was considered by many to be the foremost popularizer of scientific thought in America. The Dictionary of American Biography, for instance, declares that "at his death, Slosson was easily the out-standing interpreter of science to the non-technical public.'' 118 The New York Times asserted that "he . . . perhaps did more than anyone in his time . . . to spread abroad in widest commonality a just conception of what 'star-eyed' science has come to mean in our modern life.'' 119 And Slosson's fellow editor at the Independent, Hamilton Holt, thought that Slosson "was more than any American, responsible for the presently radically changing point of view in regard to the value of science in modern life. 120

What did Slosson tell so many Americans about science? What aspects of science did he choose to emphasize, or de-emphasize? In what ways was his interpretation shaped by his personal development, his experience as a scientist and his perceptions of cultural and political events? These questions will serve as guides in probing the sharply individual thought of a puzzling personality, for Edwin Slosson was a man of many, seemingly contradictory faces: man of science and man of letters, booster for scientific progress and gloomy prophet of doom, passionate democrat and anxious elitist, western liberal and eastern conservative; no one label adequately defines him. In the context of this study, such a complex figure cannot, of course, be adequately portrayed, especially since there is a notable dearth of scholarship on Slosson, who until recently has been ignored by most historians. As Paul Carter has remarked, "Standard accounts of the twenties never mention [Slosson], but of all the host of journalist-intellectuals who committed their thoughts to print during that decade he may ultimately have been one of the most influential." 121

Any treatment of the first ten years of Science Service would thus be grossly incomplete without at least a shallow dip into the life and thought of the man who so largely determined its early course.

Chapter Three -    Part I    Part II    Part III    Table of Contents

Copyright David J. Rhees, 1979

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