Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

( 11 )

Overview

Drawing on the lives of five great scientists, this “scholarly, insightful, and beautifully written book” (Martin Rees, author of From Here to Infinity) illuminates the path to scientific discovery.

Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein all made groundbreaking contributions to their fields—but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his ...

See more details below
Hardcover
$16.25
BN.com price
(Save 37%)$26.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Hardcover)
  • All (20) from $2.72   
  • New (14) from $6.14   
  • Used (6) from $2.72   
Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein - Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.99
BN.com price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview

Drawing on the lives of five great scientists, this “scholarly, insightful, and beautifully written book” (Martin Rees, author of From Here to Infinity) illuminates the path to scientific discovery.

Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein all made groundbreaking contributions to their fields—but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Lord Kelvin gravely miscalculated the age of the earth. Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist, constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a “Big Bang” origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein speculated incorrectly about the forces of the universe—and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. As Mario Livio luminously explains in this “thoughtful meditation on the course of science itself” (The New York Times Book Review), these five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors.

“Thoughtful, well-researched, and beautifully written” (The Washington Post), Brilliant Blunders is a wonderfully insightful examination of the psychology of five fascinating scientists—and the mistakes as well as the achievements that made them famous.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

The Washington Post - Marcia Bartusiak
Thoughtful, well-researched and beautifully written, Brilliant Blunders offers a distinctive—and far more truthful—perspective on the journey to scientific discovery. Livio chooses carefully. He focuses on the colossal mistakes of "genuinely towering scientists," including Charles Darwin, physicist Lord Kelvin, chemist Linus Pauling and cosmologist Fred Hoyle. And by providing enough background on each man's achievements, placing every blooper in a broad context, the author takes the reader on a splendid tour of some key ideas on evolution, geology, physics and cosmology.
The New York Times Book Review - Carl Zimmer
For many people…being a great scientist means being above error. That's why it is so common to see a magazine cover headline declaring, in screaming type, Einstein was wrong, or its weasel-word variant, was Einstein wrong? Livio's book is a valuable antidote to this skewed picture. He profiles five great scientists…each of whom made major discoveries and major mistakes. All five put their chips down on the wrong number, even as others prevailed. Thanks to his deep curiosity, Livio turns Brilliant Blunders into a thoughtful meditation on the course of science itself.
Publishers Weekly
Astrophysicist and award-winning author Livio (The Golden Ratio) analyzes ruinous errors of five great scientific minds in the wake of their most prominent discoveries and how those errors have not only propelled scientific breakthroughs, but provide "insights...into the operation of the human mind." Summoning Charles Darwin, Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein, Livio argues there is no progress without lessons in humility. These thinkers succumbed to moments of fear, pride, stubbornness, and doubt common to all "mere mortals"—to the benefit of elucidating the evolution of life and the universe. Two-time Nobel prize-winning chemist Pauling's flub of basic chemistry catalyzed the discoveries of Watson and Crick; Hoyle, a cosmologist who displayed "pigheaded, almost infuriating refusal" to give up his thoroughly refuted "steady state theory", energized advanced studies of how we exist in space with his controversial ideas; and Einstein, "the embodiment of genius", refused to give up on his cosmological constant, "the most famous fudge factor in the history of science." With humor and precision, Livio reminds us: "Even the most impressive minds are not flawless; they merely pave the way for the next level of understanding." (May)
The Miami Herald - Ariel Gonzalez
The blunders committed by the five geniuses profiled in this book should make us lesser beings feel better about ourselves. Mario Livio, an astrophysicist who writes popular science with Asimovian accessibility, doesn’t want to bring these men down. . . . Knowledge, Livio reminds us, transcends any one individual. It is relentless; in time it overcomes all obstacles, including the shortcomings of the very people dedicated to its advancement."
From the Publisher
“Mario Livio sets the discoveries of five great scientists who were also remarkable personalities in their social context, showing how they emerged from confusion and controversy. His archival research allows him to debunk several myths that have been given currency through less thorough biographies. You don’t need to be a scientist to be fascinated by this scholarly, insightful and beautifully written book.”

“It is said that genius is the ability to make all possible mistakes in the least amount of time. Livio’s genius is to show us just how much those mistakes have taught us.”

“Mario Livio wears many hats: scientist, sleuth, storyteller. In Brilliant Blunders, a delightful intellectual synthesis, he reminds us that he’s also one of the best science writers in our galaxy.”

“In Brilliant Blunders, Mario Livio leaves no historical detail untold, as we re-walk the error-filled pathways along which human understanding of the universe slowly emerged.”

“One of the most important things that distinguishes science from religion is that in science we (eventually) are happy to change our minds. This is called learning. As Mario Livio eloquently describes in this far-reaching and thoroughly enlightening book, many famous scientific advances involved either false starts or dead ends. In my own field, Einstein is purported to have said that inserting the cosmological constant into his equations of General Relativity was his ‘biggest blunder.’ In hindsight, as we find ourselves living in a Universe whose future may be determined by this quantity, most of us would now pay our eye teeth to have made such blunder!”

Dr. Francis Collins
“Taking risks is part of genius, and genius is not immune to bloopers. Mario Livio's Brilliant Blunders leads us through the circumstances that surrounded famous gaffes. . . . Mr. Livio helps us see that such spectacular errors are opportunities rather than setbacks.”
Dan Brown
"[Mario Livio is ] one of my favorite authors."
Minneapolis Star-Tribune - Curt Schleier
"You don’t have to be a science scholar to appreciate this book. . . . Brilliant Blunders shows that while scientists make mistakes, they ultimately get things right. And we’d better start paying attention."
ScienceNews - Allison Bohac
"Countless scientists have made major mistakes over the centuries, but Livio wisely focuses on gaffes from just five great minds: Pauling, Darwin, Einstein, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle and William Thomson, also known as Lord Kelvin. . . . Though Livio can only speculate on the reasons behind these errors, his clear and compelling writing reinforces the important contributions each of these men made to their fields. . . . Livio’s ultimate message is that blunders — even big ones — can play a role in scientific discovery."
The Lancet - Andrew Robinson
"Elegant, entertaining, and instructive."
Physics Today - Donald Simanek
"At last we have a book specifically devoted to scientific mistakes. . . . For someone who wants the whole story, Livio's book is a page turner."
Library Journal
Astrophysicist, prolific writer, and blogger Livio (Space Telescope Science Inst.; The Golden Ratio) succeeds in his aim to demonstrate that science progresses by fits and starts, with oversights, or conceptual errors (aka blunders), as part of the process. Livio sees blunders as very dependent upon a scientist’s milieu—the theories, prejudices, and culture within which the scientist exists. He examines the world-changing key works of Charles Darwin, physicist Lord Kelvin, Linus Pauling, astrophysicist Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein via detailed descriptions of the contexts within which their oversights occurred. His placement of these scientists’ work within their historical context makes the technical details of their research more accessible to lay readers and is a narrative approach reminiscent of George Pendle’s Strange Angel, his study of rocketeer Jack Parsons. Livio aims to link the men’s work under the notion of environment and evolution, defined so broadly that they seem useless and unnecessary threads, the only notable shortcoming of this engaging work.

Verdict An entertaining and different take on the work of pivotal Western scientists. Recommended.—Sara R. Tompson, Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lib., Pasadena, CA
(c) Copyright 2013. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Kirkus Reviews
Astrophysicist and popular science writer Livio (Is God a Mathematician?, 2009, etc.) delivers entertaining accounts of how five celebrated scientists went wrong. Darwin proposed that if one individual has a heritable advantage, such as strength, speed or brains, more of its offspring will survive, so the species will acquire this advantage and evolve. This would be impossible if, as almost everyone believed in Darwin's day, inherited traits blended, so that a black cat and a white cat produced a gray kitten. Luckily, Mendelian genetics revealed that traits reside in distinct genes that are transmitted intact. The famous 19th-century physicist Lord Kelvin calculated erroneously that the Earth was about 100 million years old, too young for evolution to occur. Linus Pauling published an incorrect structure of DNA in 1953, the year before James Watson and Francis Crick got it right. For Livio, this was perhaps the most inexcusable of blunders: a mixture of poor-quality data, haste and egotism. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle stuck stubbornly to his 1940s steady-state theory of the universe even as evidence favoring the Big Bang accumulated, ultimately passing the last half of his life as a widely respected crank. Einstein's 1917 theory of general relativity described an expanding universe. Since everyone considered the universe static, he added a "cosmological constant" to his equations to achieve this, discarding it when astronomers discovered expansion a decade later. Historians quote Einstein calling this his "greatest blunder," but Livio doubts that he said it. Most of these stories are familiar, but the author's emphasis on major errors by distinguished scientists, including their reasons and consequences, provides a thoroughly satisfactory experience even for educated readers. An absorbing, persuasive reminder that science is not a direct march to the truth.
The New York Review of Books - Freeman Dyson
“After reading Livio's account, I look on the history of science in a new way. In every century and every science, I see brilliant blunders.”
Physics World - Len Fisher
“The stories of how these blunders came about, and what happened next, are extremely well researched, and they shed a welcome, informative, entertaining and sometimes new light on science as a deeply human activity.”
Scientific American - Anna Kuchment
"Astrophysicist Livio unmasks the flaws in the work of some of our greatest scientific minds in this meditation on the winding, unpredictable path of discovery."
Plus magazine - Marianne Freiberger
"Livio's usual knack at making sophisticated concepts accessible has been brought to bear on his book. . . . What comes through clearly, as is one of the author's stated intentions, is that errors are part and parcel of the process and that science progresses, not always despite them, but also through them. . . . With its illustrious characters, interesting ideas and those blunders to marvel at, the book makes a fascinating read."
New York Journal of Books - Robert Schaefer
"Wide ranging and entertaining, Brilliant Blunders might be picked up by readers who have been fooled into doing so by the notion of blunders, but they will certainly enjoy it for its brilliance."
Martin Rees
“Mario Livio sets the discoveries of five great scientists who were also remarkable personalities in their social context, showing how they emerged from confusion and controversy. His archival research allows him to debunk several myths that have been given currency through less thorough biographies. You don’t need to be a scientist to be fascinated by this scholarly, insightful and beautifully written book.”
Adam Riess
“It is said that genius is the ability to make all possible mistakes in the least amount of time. Livio’s genius is to show us just how much those mistakes have taught us.”
Steven Strogatz
“Mario Livio wears many hats: scientist, sleuth, storyteller. In Brilliant Blunders, a delightful intellectual synthesis, he reminds us that he’s also one of the best science writers in our galaxy.”
Neil deGrasse Tyson
“In Brilliant Blunders, Mario Livio leaves no historical detail untold, as we re-walk the error-filled pathways along which human understanding of the universe slowly emerged.”
Lawrence M. Krauss
“One of the most important things that distinguishes science from religion is that in science we (eventually) are happy to change our minds. This is called learning. As Mario Livio eloquently describes in this far-reaching and thoroughly enlightening book, many famous scientific advances involved either false starts or dead ends. In my own field, Einstein is purported to have said that inserting the cosmological constant into his equations of General Relativity was his ‘biggest blunder.’ In hindsight, as we find ourselves living in a Universe whose future may be determined by this quantity, most of us would now pay our eye teeth to have made such blunder!”
The Wall Street Journal - Samuel Arbesman
Mr. Livio is a gifted storyteller. . . .[He] shows how science works partly by feeding on past mistakes: Once recognized, the errors sparked creativity in other scientists. An incorrect view of the world is not simply a mistake; it's a catalyst that leads to better understanding."
The Washington Post - Marcia Bartusiak
"Scientists make mistakes all the time, but those bumps in the road are often smoothed out in the legends that surround the greatest discoverers. . . . Thoughtful, well-researched and beautifully written, Brilliant Blunders offers a distinctive — and far more truthful — perspective on the journey to scientific discovery."
The New York Times Book Review - Carl Zimmer
“Enlightening. . . . For many people, being a great scientist means being above error. . . . Livio’s book is a valuable antidote to this skewed picture. . . . Thanks to his deep curiosity, Livio turns Brilliant Blunders into a thoughtful meditation on the course of science itself."
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439192368
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 5/14/2013
  • Pages: 341
  • Sales rank: 17,273
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Mario Livio is an internationally known astrophysicist at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). He is the author of The Golden Ratio, a highly acclaimed book for which he received the International Pythagoras Prize and the Peano Prize; The Equation That Couldn’t Be Solved; Is God a Mathematician?; and The Accelerating Universe. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland.

Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Brilliant Blunders

Throughout the entire period that I have been working on this book, every few weeks someone would ask me what my book was about. I developed a standard answer: “It is about blunders, and it is not an autobiography!” This would get a few laughs and the occasional approbation “What an interesting idea.” My objective was simple: to correct the impression that scientific breakthroughs are purely success stories. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Not only is the road to triumph paved with blunders, but the bigger the prize, the bigger the potential blunder.

Immanuel Kant, the great German philosopher, wrote famously, “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” In the time that has passed since the publication of his The Critique of Practical Reason (1788), we have made impressive progress in understanding the former; considerably less so, in my humble opinion, in elucidating the latter. It is apparently much more difficult to make life or mind comprehensible to itself. Nevertheless, the life sciences in general—and the research into the operation of the human brain in particular—are truly picking up speed. So it may not be altogether inconceivable after all that one day we will even fully understand why evolution has concocted a sentient species.

While this book is about some of the remarkable endeavors to figure out life and the cosmos, it is more concerned with the journey than with the destination. I tried to concentrate on the thought process and the obstacles on the way to discovery rather than on the achievements themselves.

Many people have helped me along the way, some maybe even unknowingly. I am grateful to Steve Mojzsis and Reika Yokochi for discussions on topics related to geology. I thank Jack Dunitz, Horace Freeland Judson, Matt Meselson, Evangelos Moudrianakis, Alex Rich, Jack Szostak, and Jim Watson for conversations on chemistry, biology, and specifically on Linus Pauling’s work. I am indebted to Peter Eggleton, John Faulkner, Geoffrey Hoyle, Jayant Narlikar, and Lord Martin Rees for helpful discussions on astrophysics and cosmology, and on Fred Hoyle’s work.

I would also like to express my gratitude to all the people who provided me with invaluable materials for this book, and in particular to: Adam Perkins and the staff of the Cambridge University Library, for materials on Darwin and on Lord Kelvin; Mark Hurn of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, for materials on Lord Kelvin and on Fred Hoyle; Amanda Smith of the Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge, for materials on Fred Hoyle and for processing photos related to Watson and Crick; Clifford Meade and Chris Petersen of the Special Collections Department of Oregon State University, for materials on Linus Pauling; Loma Karklins of the Caltech Archives, for material on Linus Pauling; Sarah Brooks from the Nature Publishing Group, for material on Rosalind Franklin; Bob Carswell and Peter Hingley for materials on Georges Lemaître from the Royal Astronomical Society; Liliane Moens of the Archives Georges Lemaître, for materials on Georges Lemaître; Kathryn McKee of St. John’s College, Cambridge, for materials on Fred Hoyle; and Barbara Wolff of the Albert Einstein Archives, Diana Kormos Buchwald of the Einstein Papers Project, Daniel Kennefick of the University of Arkansas, Michael Simonson of the Leo Baeck Institute, Christine Lutz of Princeton University, and Christine Di Bella of the Institute for Advanced Study for materials on Einstein.

Special thanks are due to Jill Lagerstrom, Elizabeth Fraser, and Amy Gonigam of the Space Telescope Science Institute, and to the staff at the Johns Hopkins University Library for their continuous bibliographic support. I am grateful to Sharon Toolan for her professional help in preparing the manuscript for print, to Pam Jeffries for skillfully drawing some of the figures, and to Zak Concannon for cleaning some of the figures. As always, my most patient and supportive ally has been my wife, Sofie.

Finally, I thank my agent, Susan Rabiner, for her relentless encouragement; my editor, Bob Bender, for his thoughtful comments; Loretta Denner, for her assistance during copyediting; and Johanna Li, for her dedication during the entire production of this book.

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 11 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(6)

4 Star

(4)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(1)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 23, 2013

    Well written. Livio provides enough historical detail to weave a

    Well written. Livio provides enough historical detail to weave an interesting story and enough scientific detail to enlighten. It highlights the wonderful messiness of the scientific process.
     

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 17, 2014

    informative and stimulating

    Good discussion of key rational issues that impact our lives today.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    Silver

    Here baby

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 3, 2013

    Thistlefang

    Youre welcoke!

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2013

    Derpykit

    The results are all messed up! I cant find camp!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 23, 2013

    Muffinkit

    Wheres new camp

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 7, 2013

    Yellow

    Hey

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 20, 2013

    LEADER'S DEN

    This is for Yellowstar!!!

    0 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 31, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 11 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)