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In search of a better world with 20 outstanding scholars the launch of a new celebratory book of the Polish Academy of Sciences

Scholars in Search of a Better World: 20 Tales from Poland is a collection of tales about people of science and their passionate work in search of a better world. Taken together, these tales form a polyphonic account with multiple narrative threads, and indeed a close encounter with contemporary Polish literature – as the stories of individual scholars were written by top-notch contemporary Polish writers. The book was published to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Polish Academy of Sciences.  

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What is a better world?   

Can science make the world a better place? Seeking to address this question in this volume, contemporary Polish authors were invited by the Polish Academy of Sciences to present short essays dealing with the fates of outstanding scholars, often dramatic and strongly marked by their historical context. Thus, the writers have imparted a very personal and individual tenor to the formalized world of scientific theories.  

Scholars 

The book introduces us to 20 scholars who represented various disciplines of science and lived throughout the centuries. Although they differed in many respects, what they all had in common were a scholarly passion and inquisitiveness in exploring the world around them. Their tales sketch out a unique picture of the history of Polish science against the backdrop of the country’s history and international transformations and turning points. The people described in the book were participants and even causative factors behind those events. 

Mikołaj Kopernik, Ignacy Łukasiewicz, Józefa Joteyko, Maria Skłodowska-Curie, Rudolf Weigl, Ludwik Hirszfeld, Marian Smoluchowki, Stefan Banach, Leszek Kołakowski, and more – the scholars featured in the book include some iconic figures associated with Poland, but also some less conspicuous and less obvious scientists, ones who died before their time.   

Authors   

The writers of these profiles of scholars have experimented with various literary forms. The book includes essays, short stories, a family discussion, recollections of the main character’s son, and even... a fable. The tales were crafted by some of the top names in contemporary Polish writing: Maciej Hen, Stefan Chwin, Wojciech Nowicki, Łukasz Orbitowski, Sylwia Chutnik, Krzysztof Siwczyk, Mikołaj Łoziński, Izabela Morska, Andrzej Muszyński, Inga Iwasiów, Paweł Goźliński, Ignacy Karpowicz, Kaja Malanowska, Piotr Siemion, Weronika Murek, Wit Szostak, Maciej Miłkowski, Łukasz Zawada, Piotr Wojciechowski, and Joanna Bator.   

Unique style 

The book offers a unique combination of two elements: the figures of prominent scholars and contemporary writers. In the words of Olga Tokarczuk, the winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature: “Their [the authors’] unique and individual point of view gives the reader some quite unusual perspectives, showing scientific discovery within the broader cultural and social context. Through this approach, the scientists become less remote figures, and – even if we cannot understand them fully – their achievements are brought closer to our lives.” 

Illustrations  

The profiles of scholars are complemented by original illustrations. They portray the scientists in what are sometimes well-known, historical depictions, but in an original and contemporary style. In turn, biographies of writers are coupled with their drawing miniatures. The illustrations were created by the graphic artist and illustrator Agata “Endo” Nowicka.   

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English translation 

Scholars in Search of a Better World: 20 Tales from Poland is the translation of the book W poszukiwaniu lepszego świata. 20 opowieści o postaciach nauki, originally published in Polish. The English language version has been created by two exceptional translators – Antonia Lloyd-Jones (who translated Olga Tokarczuk’s books, among those of many other writers) and Eliza Marciniak.  

Read the book in the PAS Botanical Garden 

Each scholar described in the book will have a special bench bearing a quote from the essay about him or her. The benches will be located in the Linden Avenue in the PAS Botanical Garden in Powsin. The trees will be symbolically planted by the authors of the stories during the ceremonial opening of the Avenue on 10 June.  

For an easier reading experience, each bench will have a QR code, redirecting the readers directly to the electronic version of the book. Come to the Linden Avenue and read the book on the bench of your choice! 

Online version 

The publication is available in two language versions (Polish and English). They can be downloaded from the website pan.pl/20Scholars.  

The book’s concept was developed by representatives of the Polish Academy of Sciences – Prof. Jerzy Duszyński, President of the PAS, and the book’s managing editor, Anna Plater-Zyberk. Bios of the scholars were written by a team of experts from the PAS Institute for the History of Science, Polish Academy of Sciences. 

We are thankful to the sponsors who supported the publication of the book, including L’Oréal’s “For Women in Science” Program and the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS).  

Source of information and photographs: Polish Academy of Sciences