C. P. Snow, born Charles Percy Snow, (1905-1980) was a scientist and novelist.
Born in Leicester, he was educated at University College, Leicester and Cambridge University, where he became a Fellow of Christ's College. He was knighted in 1957 and made a life peer (Baron Snow of the City of Leicester) in 1964. He served as a Minister in the Labour government of Harold Wilson.
Snow is most noted for his lectures and books regarding his concept of "The Two Cultures", as developed in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959). Here he notes that the breakdown of communication between the sciences and the humanities is a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.
In particular, Snow argues that the quality of education in the world is on the decline. For example, many scientists have never read Charles Dickens, but artistic intellectuals are equally non-conversant with science. He wrote:
- "A good many times I have been present at gatherings of people who, by the standards of the traditional culture, are thought highly educated and who have with considerable gusto been expressing their incredulity at the illiteracy of scientists. Once or twice I have been provoked and have asked the company how many of them could describe the Second Law of Thermodynamics. The response was cold: it was also negative. Yet I was asking something which is about the scientific equivalent of: 'Have you read a work of Shakespeare's?'
- I now believe that if I had asked an even simpler question -- such as, What do you mean by mass, or acceleration, which is the scientific equivalent of saying, 'Can you read?' -- not more than one in ten of the highly educated would have felt that I was speaking the same language. So the great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their neolithic ancestors would have had."
Snow's lecture aroused considerable ferment at the time of its delivery, partly because of the uncompromising style in which he stated his case. He was strongly criticised by the literary critic F. R. Leavis. The dispute even inspired a comic song on the subject of the second law of thermodynamics from Flanders & Swann.
- "When you think of the long and gloomy history of man, you will find more hideous crimes have been committed in the name of obedience than have ever been committed in the name of rebellion."
Snow also took note of another divide; that between rich and poor nations.
Snow's first novel was the whodunnit Death under Sail (1932). However, he is much better known as the author of a sequence of political novels entitled Strangers and Brothers depicting intellectuals in academic and government settings in the modern era. He also wrote a biography of Anthony Trollope.
C.P. Snow was married to novelist Pamela Hansford Johnson.
- Web sites relating to the Snow-Leavis Controversy (http://academics.vmi.edu/gen_ed/Two_Cultures.html)