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The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity:
A Study in Sociological Semantics and the Sociology of Science
Robert K. Merton & Elinor Barber
With an introduction by James L. Shulman

Book Description | Table of Contents
Chapter 1 [HTML] or [PDF format]


"The sociologist Robert K. Merton, who died a year ago this month at the age of 92, had a genius for plucking fascinating phenomena out of thin air, giving them names, and changing the way we see the world. . . . Merton might have had his name linked to one more concept, 'serendipity,' but for a peculiar decision of his. He wrote a book on the subject in the 1950s, together with Elinor G. Barber, a Columbia University researcher. Then he had second thoughts and stuffed the manuscript in a drawer. Now as a capstone to the man's brilliant career, Princeton University Press has brought the abandoned book out into English for the first time."--Christopher Shea, Boston Globe

"This long awaited, long unpublished manuscript proffers enough of its own pleasures that no connoisseur of eccentric erudition will want to forgo them."--Michael Dirda, Washington Post Book World

"This is the best written and most entertaining book of sociology ever written."--Philip Howard, The Times (London)

"The word 'serendipity' was coined in 1754 by Horace Walpole. . . . Walpole would appreciate the many digressions and diversions that shape the travels and adventures of his lighthearted coinage and the delight with which Merton and Barber tell its story."--Craig Calhoun, Bookforum


"Curiosity, wonder, openness--these cohabit, comfortably, in that marvelous coinage of Walpole, serendipity. And they mark as well Merton and Barber's ebullient journey in search of all the meanings of the word. A romp of minds at play!"--Roald Hoffmann, Department of Chemistry, Cornell University, and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

"One definition of serendipity is: 'The faculty of making happy and unexpected discoveries by accident.' Notice that 'faculty' and don't you wish you had it. Merton had it--oh boy, did he--and this treat of a book exemplifies just that. Here is one of those cases where the voyage is even more fun than the destination. There are off-beat nuggets about discovery and scholarship, and about the sociology of discovery and scholarship, and then there are ironical comments about the whole enterprise as it occurs. You will experience serendipity even while you are being educated about it, and you will learn to combine fun and profit."--Robert M. Solow, Institute Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences

"What a splendid book! The Adventures and Travels of Serendipity is not only a guide to the extraordinary history and present-day usefulness of the blessings that can come from those unplanned, accidental events which, sagaciously employed, can shape one's life. But equally, the volume is an exemplification of superb scholarship presented in graceful style. Indeed, while reading the book one realizes that one perceives its unique subject matter from the vantage of standing on the shoulders of giants."--Gerald Holton, Harvard University

"Merton and Barber's work, The Travels and Adventures of Serendipity, is a highly original sociological essay and a great work of literature at the same time. Decades ago, when I first heard about this manuscript, I wanted to read it. To have it now, as if as a gift from the late Robert K. Merton, is a pleasure long awaited. Generations of scholars to come will enjoy it and learn from it."--Wolf Lepenies, Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin

"This book exceeded my expectations, both for erudition and for entertainment. Its broad-gauged inquiry offers fascinating material for readers of many kinds. Like On the Shoulders of Giants, this book floods readers with information of every imaginable kind, introduces fantastic characters, and describes bizarre and wonderful books. It also offers something that On the Shoulders of Giants could not: explicit reflections on the meaning of Merton's work. The publication of this book is a fitting tribute to a great scholar but also an intervention in current scholarly and scientific debates."--Anthony Grafton, Princeton University

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File created: 4/21/2017

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