Well written, congenial, and full of lore—about both England and the history of science.

WALKING ZERO

DISCOVERING COSMIC SPACE AND TIME ALONG THE PRIME MERIDIAN

A brief history of science, in the context of a walking tour along the Greenwich meridian.

Raymo (Climbing Brandon, 2004), an astronomy and physics professor, points out that the Prime Meridian passes through several sites important to the history of science. Beginning at Brighton, he headed north along the numerous walking paths that crisscross the English countryside. Each chapter begins with the landscape, then zooms out to look at how our sense of time and space has expanded since Greek times, when the first measurement of the earth's size was made near Alexandria. Successive scientific revolutions have progressively removed Earth and the human race from the center of the cosmos. Raymo's course brings him near sites where the first dinosaur fossils were found (forcing a revised estimate of the earth's age), near Darwin's home in Down, and near the London home of the Royal society, where Newton and other scientific giants first made their findings known. A key site is the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, where various Astronomers Royal did work that enlarged our conception of the universe, continuing the process begun by the Greek philosopher Aristarchus, whose work anticipated Copernicus. There he also finds John Harrison's clocks, which solved the problem of determining longitude at sea, and gave a reason for locating the Prime Meridian at Greenwich. The final stop is at the radio telescopes at Cambridge, where research established that the universe is some 13 billion years old. Raymo enriches his picture by including the likes of Samuel Pepys, who combined membership in the Royal Society with a career that took him to all levels of Restoration society. Like Pepys, Raymo has a good eye for colorful detail, and brings it to bear on his narrative.

Well written, congenial, and full of lore—about both England and the history of science.

Pub Date: May 2, 2006

ISBN: 0-8027-1494-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2006

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THE GREAT BRIDGE

THE EPIC STORY OF THE BUILDING OF THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE

It took 14 years to build and it cost 15 million dollars and the lives of 20 workmen. Like the Atlantic cable and the Suez Canal it was a gigantic embodiment in steel and concrete of the Age of Enterprise. McCullough's outsized biography of the bridge attempts to capture in one majestic sweep the full glory of the achievement but the story sags mightily in the middle. True, the Roeblings, father and son who served successively as Chief Engineer, are cast in a heroic mold. True, too, the vital statistics of the bridge are formidable. But despite diligent efforts by the author the details of the construction work — from sinking the caissons, to underground blasting, stringing of cables and pouring of cement — will crush the determination of all but the most indomitable reader. To make matters worse, McCullough dutifully struggles through the administrative history of the Brooklyn Bridge Company which financed and contracted for the project with the help of the Tweed Machine and various Brooklyn bosses who profited handsomely amid continuous allegations of kickbacks and mismanagement of funds. He succeeds in evoking the venality and crass materialism of the epoch but once again the details — like the 3,515 miles of steel wire in each cable — are tiresome and ultimately entangling. Workmanlike and thorough though it is, McCullough's history of the bridge has more bulk than stature.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1972

ISBN: 0743217373

Page Count: 652

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1972

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An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both...

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SEVEN BRIEF LESSONS ON PHYSICS

Italian theoretical physicist Rovelli (General Relativity: The Most Beautiful of Theories, 2015, etc.) shares his thoughts on the broader scientific and philosophical implications of the great revolution that has taken place over the past century.

These seven lessons, which first appeared as articles in the Sunday supplement of the Italian newspaper Sole 24 Ore, are addressed to readers with little knowledge of physics. In less than 100 pages, the author, who teaches physics in both France and the United States, cogently covers the great accomplishments of the past and the open questions still baffling physicists today. In the first lesson, he focuses on Einstein's theory of general relativity. He describes Einstein's recognition that gravity "is not diffused through space [but] is that space itself" as "a stroke of pure genius." In the second lesson, Rovelli deals with the puzzling features of quantum physics that challenge our picture of reality. In the remaining sections, the author introduces the constant fluctuations of atoms, the granular nature of space, and more. "It is hardly surprising that there are more things in heaven and earth, dear reader, than have been dreamed of in our philosophy—or in our physics,” he writes. Rovelli also discusses the issues raised in loop quantum gravity, a theory that he co-developed. These issues lead to his extraordinary claim that the passage of time is not fundamental but rather derived from the granular nature of space. The author suggests that there have been two separate pathways throughout human history: mythology and the accumulation of knowledge through observation. He believes that scientists today share the same curiosity about nature exhibited by early man.

An intriguing meditation on the nature of the universe and our attempts to understand it that should appeal to both scientists and general readers.

Pub Date: March 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-18441-3

Page Count: 96

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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