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Susan Wise Bauer

W W Norton and Co, £16.99

Bauer's opening words are: "This is not a history of science". However, by page 2, she is already conceding this is only "a slightly different kind of history". She picks out great works that everybody knows, tells a tale or two, and then provides a link to an online version.

There are many other equally great works that she ignores – don't expect to find much medicine, philosophy, taxonomy, microbiology, medicine, pathology, technology or engineering, as she is fixated on the current vogue for genetics, physics and astronomy.

Sometimes she rights a wrong, reinstating William D Hamilton as the originator of the selfish gene concept. At other times she doesn't know enough – for example, she omits the many people who thought of natural selection prior to Charles Darwin, notably Patrick Matthew, Robert Chambers and the Reverend Baden Powell.

Bauer writes engagingly, and as a primer this could be a good read, but it lacks original scholarship.

Brian J Ford