Splendid exposition, accessible to the mathematically challenged as well as the mathematically inclined.

READ REVIEW

EUCLID’S WINDOW

THE STORY OF GEOMETRY FROM PARALLEL LINES TO HYPERSPACE

Halfway through this articulate and droll history of math and physics, you wonder: Who is this guy with the unpronounceable name you want to recommend to all your friends?

And so you discover that Mlodinow has gone from Cal-tech professor to Star Trek scriptwriter to developmental VP for an educational software firm. That would account for his knack of presenting the evolution of mathematical thought with an insider’s insight, quirky humor, and titillating facts about the great and near-great. Describing the work of Boethius (who abridged Euclid’s Elements), Mlodinow writes, “his translations might be entitled ‘Euclid for Dummies’ or sold in TV ads imploring, call 1-800-NOPROOFS.” On the foundations of quantum mechanics he quotes Erwin Schrodinger (“It has never happened that a woman has slept with me and did not wish, as a consequence, to live with me all her life”). These little fillips engage the reader as the author chronicles how our views of the universe have been informed by concepts of space. Much of the text (and human history) does indeed reflect the view from Euclid’s window—in which space is flat, filled with points, lines, and figures (like triangles) whose angles add up to 180 degrees. That works only as long as you accept as an axiom that through a point outside a line one and only one line can be drawn parallel to a given line. Much ink was poured unsuccessfully over the years to derive this “axiom” from the other Euclidean axioms as a theorem. Then during the 19th and 20th centuries, in the works of Gauss, Riemann, and Lobachevsky, the notion of non-Euclidean curved space took root and revolutionized physics. Einstein demonstrated the curvature of space in general relativity, and he needed four-dimensional space-time to develop special relativity. Mlodinow concludes with the latest wrinkles on the geometry of space, from the early formulations of string theory and now M-theory to the abstruse work of mathematicians like John Schwarz and Ed Witten.

Splendid exposition, accessible to the mathematically challenged as well as the mathematically inclined.

Pub Date: April 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-684-86523-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2001

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

EDISON

One of history’s most prolific inventors receives his due from one of the world’s greatest biographers.

Pulitzer and National Book Award winner Morris (This Living Hand and Other Essays, 2012, etc.), who died this year, agrees that Thomas Edison (1847-1931) almost certainly said, “genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration,” and few readers of this outstanding biography will doubt that he was the quintessential workaholic. Raised in a middle-class Michigan family, Edison displayed an obsessive entrepreneurial spirit from childhood. As an adolescent, he ran a thriving business selling food and newspapers on a local railroad. Learning Morse code, he spent the Civil War as a telegrapher, impressing colleagues with his speed and superiors with his ability to improve the equipment. In 1870, he opened his own shop to produce inventions to order. By 1876, he had money to build a large laboratory in New Jersey, possibly the world’s first industrial research facility. Never a loner, Edison hired talented people to assist him. The dazzling results included the first commercially successful light bulb for which, Morris reminds readers, he invented the entire system: dynamo, wires, transformers, connections, and switches. Critics proclaim that Edison’s innovations (motion pictures, fluoroscope, rechargeable batteries, mimeograph, etc.) were merely improvements on others’ work, but this is mostly a matter of sour grapes. Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone was a clunky, short-range device until it added Edison’s carbon microphone. And his phonograph flabbergasted everyone. Humans had been making images long before Daguerre, but no one had ever reproduced sound. Morris rivetingly describes the personalities, business details, and practical uses of Edison’s inventions as well as the massive technical details of years of research and trial and error for both his triumphs and his failures. For no obvious reason, the author writes in reverse chronological order, beginning in 1920, with each of the seven following chapters backtracking a decade. It may not satisfy all readers, but it works.

Not only the definitive life, but a tour de force by a master.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9311-0

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2016

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • National Book Critics Circle Winner

LAB GIRL

Award-winning scientist Jahren (Geology and Geophysics/Univ. of Hawaii) delivers a personal memoir and a paean to the natural world.

The author’s father was a physics and earth science teacher who encouraged her play in the laboratory, and her mother was a student of English literature who nurtured her love of reading. Both of these early influences engrossingly combine in this adroit story of a dedication to science. Jahren’s journey from struggling student to struggling scientist has the narrative tension of a novel and characters she imbues with real depth. The heroes in this tale are the plants that the author studies, and throughout, she employs her facility with words to engage her readers. We learn much along the way—e.g., how the willow tree clones itself, the courage of a seed’s first root, the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi, and the airborne signals used by trees in their ongoing war against insects. Trees are of key interest to Jahren, and at times she waxes poetic: “Each beginning is the end of a waiting. We are each given exactly one chance to be. Each of us is both impossible and inevitable. Every replete tree was first a seed that waited.” The author draws many parallels between her subjects and herself. This is her story, after all, and we are engaged beyond expectation as she relates her struggle in building and running laboratory after laboratory at the universities that have employed her. Present throughout is her lab partner, a disaffected genius named Bill, whom she recruited when she was a graduate student at Berkeley and with whom she’s worked ever since. The author’s tenacity, hope, and gratitude are all evident as she and Bill chase the sweetness of discovery in the face of the harsh economic realities of the research scientist.

Jahren transcends both memoir and science writing in this literary fusion of both genres.

Pub Date: April 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-87493-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more