Pays wonderful homage to the science and scientists that helped create the modern world.

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THE TEN MOST BEAUTIFUL EXPERIMENTS

The New York Times science writer’s favorite experiments from the golden ages of science.

Johnson (Miss Leavitt’s Stars: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Discovered How to Measure the Universe, 2005, etc.) says in the prologue that he deliberately chose experiments conducted before Big Science made huge teams of researchers and truckloads of apparatus the norm. Instead, he harks back to the days when lone investigators with homemade equipment were opening the frontiers of knowledge. Some of his examples are so famous they can be evoked in a few words: Newton’s rainbow, Pavlov’s dogs, Galileo’s falling bodies. Others, while not quite so easily epitomized, are nearly as familiar: the Michelson-Morley experiment, or Antoine-Laurent de Lavoisier’s discovery that oxygen is an element. Even the best known, Johnson demonstrates, are not as cut and dried as popular legend has it. For example, Pavlov rarely used bells to stimulate his dogs’ salivating, and Galileo may not have dropped weights from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Each of the scientists has a personal story in which the famous experiment is but one element. Michael Faraday was encouraged by Lord Byron’s daughter, Ada Lovelace, to do his work with electromagnetism and light after his career had apparently hit a dead-end. Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta, two of the earliest investigators of electricity, made many of their discoveries in the course of an intense rivalry over whether “animal electricity” exists. In each of these concise, evocative chapters, Johnson makes the essence of the experiment clear and captures the character of the experimenter. Additional subjects include William Harvey, the first to correctly describe the circulation of blood; James Joule, who effectively discovered the conservation of energy; and Robert Millikan, who measured the charge of the electron. An epilogue, “The Eleventh Most Beautiful Experiment,” glances at omitted experiments and invites readers to make their own lists.

Pays wonderful homage to the science and scientists that helped create the modern world.

Pub Date: April 9, 2008

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4101-5

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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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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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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