FIVE EQUATIONS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics by Michael Guillen

FIVE EQUATIONS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: The Power and Poetry of Mathematics

Email this review


Well, of course E = mc; that's the last in chronological order of the five favorites that Guillen extols in this lively exposition of science for the layman. Good Morning America's science host and a Harvard instructor in physics and mathematics, Guillen (Bridges to Infinity, not reviewed) actually goes to great lengths to spare the reader the mathematical details of his equations. Instead, in showing how scientists developed these laws, he spices each chapter with emotional fervor and probes the innermost thoughts of his heroes in a way that scholarly biographers normally eschew. So, for example, we read that Isaac Newton, settled with an intellectual family after unhappier foster homes, ""just that suddenly had the inkling of what it was like to feel normal,"" or that the younger of the Bernoulli brothers (Daniel) was ""raring to flex his intellectual muscles,"" or that to Faraday ""facts were as sacred as scriptural voices."" Add to the hyperbole the bits about our heroes' childhoods, marriages, scientific rivalries, and feuds (for which the Bernoullis were justly famous), and the result is a crowd-pleasing kind of book designed to make the science as palatable as possible. In fact, Guillen succeeds. With all the juicy bits and spoon-feeding (even using words in equations before symbols), he nicely explains: Newton's law of universal gravitation (with an epilogue on space travel); Bernoulli's law of hydrodynamic pressure (with epilogue on why planes don't fall down); Faraday's law of electromagnetic induction (with epilogue on dynamos); Rudolf Clausius and the second law of thermodynamics (epilogue on entropy and the Krakatoa explosion); and Einstein on special relativity (with epilogue on the atom bomb). Great for high schoolers, the math-anxious but curious, and others who want to know--but not too much.

Pub Date: Sept. 15th, 1995
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Hyperion