The former publisher of Scientific American undertakes a summary of the state of knowledge as a new century gets underway.
After a brief introduction describing the genesis of the modern Scientific American in the years after WWII as a science magazine for the general reader, Piel points out that, to the scientist, the relevance of a discovery or theory to the world at large never really comes up. Science is, to a scientist, its own justification. But everyone has at one time or another wondered how the universe began, how life originated, and how it will all end. These questions have fascinated the best minds in our era as in earlier ones, but only now can our answers satisfy strict scientific criteria: above all, the primacy of observation, the rejection of the metaphysical, and the need to present one's results for verification. Modern science began with the extension of the range of human senses by means of such instruments as the telescope, the microscope, and various electronic detection devices. In the 20th century, as the power and scope of those instruments dramatically increased, the universe became both clearer and stranger. Relativity and quantum theory brought elements of the paradoxical into the seemingly hard surface of reality. The astronomers' gaze into deep space, in wavelengths invisible to the eye, revealed vast energies at play and huge vistas of time. And the light shed by the new physics on the processes of chemistry gave birth to molecular biology, above all the discovery of the DNA molecule's role in the nature of life on our planet. True to the mission he mapped out for his magazine, Piel is always aware of the general reader’s needs, and takes care to outline basic principles as well as the broader implications of the discoveries he describes.
Clear, comprehensive, and up-to-date.