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Posted April 11, 2008
From Archimedes to Hawking and Everyone Between This is Dr. Pickover's first scientific book since his A Beginner's Guide to Immortality and The Mobius Strip writings of 2006. After over a year of pursuing science fiction, the author has provided us with a work that was worth waiting for. This is his best yet. Archimedes to Hawking is no dry listing of scientific laws. Yes, it does have the important laws of science and the runners-up which Pickover generously calls the 'Great Contenders.' The reason that the book runs to five hundred pages is that Pickover describes the lives and works of the lawgivers. These are not just people who showed up. Their biographies show that they worked at it. 'Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.' Although the illustrations appear to be more for decoration than explanation, some are quite stunning. I particularly liked Bode's Virgo and Hooke's Flea, even if they have nothing to do with the laws named for those two. More illustrations like those would have been nice. The author's approach is interesting. The laws are arranged chronologically. Archimedes is the first, but we have to skip almost two millennia to the Renaissance to find the next. The Industrial Revolution then brings the bulk of the science. There is very little past the turn of the twentieth century. Only three of the scientists named in this collection are still alive. Perhaps we have stopped naming scientific laws after people because we regard the laws of nature more as discovery than personal invention, or maybe it is that we are so expectant of future refinements that we now distrust the concept of the immutable law. The geography of the lawgivers is mostly European. The bulk of the laws are attributed to French, English, and German physicists and chemists. Americans are fourth in number, but only if you include the runner-up category. Although Pickover is not a physicist by training, he shows that he understands the thought process of the physicist. He shows their quest for understanding of the principles of the universe, the search for the beauty and symmetry of nature. Even more, Pickover has learned to think like a physicist. Pickover gives a rational explanation for his inclusion of works in the great laws and the runner-up categories. Many people may be surprised to find that Maxwell's Equations do not have a chapter of their own but share the Faraday chapter, while relatively obscure works are included, even one of the runners-up that mentions my name. Pickover explains that the individual laws that make up Maxwell's Equations were developed by other people: Ampere, Faraday, Gauss. For a book like this it is necessary to make choices. The author explains his reasoning in a convincing manner. You may argue with his choices, but I think that if he errs, it is mostly on the side of inclusion, not exclusion. I do not think that you have to be a physicist or chemist to appreciate this book, but some formal science training may help you to appreciate the simplicity and beauty of the equations. I see this book becoming a standard reference work for those who study the physical sciences or the history of science. Or you may just like it for the joy of the science and the history.
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Posted November 11, 2009
Pickover, as usual, has done a bang-up job. It covers a wide range of knowledge, be it physics, chemistry and even short biographies of the greats since Archimedes. Formulae are provided for the cognoscenti, yet well-written enough to satisfy the casual reader.
I gave this book to a retired research physicist, who can be very punctilious, and he was amazed at the breadth of knowledge and so error free.
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Posted July 29, 2011
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