The Two Cultures (C.P. Snow)

This book is actually a transcript of lecture Snow gave and then his response a few years later to all of the feedback he’d received. Though the original lecture was given in 1959, there is much in it that resonates today.

What Snow calls the two cultures might today be called the two sides of the brain. He offers the dichotomy of the scientist and the literary expert. For example, he writes that “[i]f the scientists have the future in their bones, then the traditional culture responds by wishing the future did not exist” (11).

He laments the increased specialization of education and outlines the impact it has on all of us. We were, at that time, at a point where each side barely spoke with each other. He argues, and I agree, that “[t]he clashing point of two subjects, two disciplines,two cultures – of two galaxies, so far as that goes – ought to produce creative chances” (16). Instead, “once a cultural divide gets established, all the social forces operate to make it not less rigid, but more so” (17).

He also argues that “[i]ndustrialization is the only hope for the poor” (25). At first, I balked, thinking only of child labor and its abuses. But Snow calls me on that, using the word “privilege” far sooner than any of our current critics. “[T]he industrial revolution was less bad,” he asserts, “then what had gone before” (27).

Snow is also sensitive to the fact that “the young scientists know that with an indifferent degree they’ll get a comfortable job, while their contemporaries in English or History will be lucky to earn 60 per cent as much” (18). The scientists were on what Snow calls “the rise” (17) even then.

The writing here is not outstanding. The first part is, after all, a talk. I wonder if it would be a TED talk today.

But there is much in here to chew on for educators today. This piece made me think a great deal. It also made me want to brush up on my science.


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