Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science

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Overview

Galileo, one of whose fingers is preserved in a vessel displayed in Florence, provided much of the impetus for modern science, pointing the way out of medieval ignorance. In this brilliant account of the central ideas of contemporary science, bestselling author Peter Atkins celebrates the power of the scientific method to reveal the nature of our universe, our world, and ourselves.
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Galileo's Finger: The Ten Great Ideas of Science

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Overview

Galileo, one of whose fingers is preserved in a vessel displayed in Florence, provided much of the impetus for modern science, pointing the way out of medieval ignorance. In this brilliant account of the central ideas of contemporary science, bestselling author Peter Atkins celebrates the power of the scientific method to reveal the nature of our universe, our world, and ourselves.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This beautifully written but at times overly ambitious book illustrates both the possibilities and the limitations of science popularizations. Chemistry professor Atkins examines the epochal ideas of science, including evolution, the role of DNA in heredity, entropy, the atomic structure of matter, symmetry, wave-particle duality, the expansion of the universe and the curvature of spacetime. Exploring the history of these concepts from the ancient Greeks onward, the chapters amount to case studies in the power of the Galilean paradigm of the "isolation of the essentials of a problem," and mathematical theorizing disciplined by real-world experiment, as humanity's understanding moves from armchair speculation and observational lore to testable theories of great explanatory power. Atkins presents this progress as a search for evermore fundamental abstractions: DNA emerges as the fleeting physical instantiation of immortal information; thermodynamics is a universal tendency to disorder; and much of physics itself a logical corollary of pure geometry. Writing in lucid, engaging prose illustrated with many ingenious diagrams, Atkins often succeeds brilliantly in conveying the deep conceptual foundations of scientific disciplines to readers lacking a mathematical background. He falters a little, like most science popularizers, at the frontiers of modern physics, where things get very abstract indeed. Atkins's examples are excellent and his prose a marvel of economy, but for most lay readers, no amount of graphical heuristics or arguments by analogy will fully explain string theory or four-dimensional space-time curvature. Still, the elegant style, wide-ranging scope, and unusually high ratio of enlightening explanation to baffling abstruseness make this book one of the best of its kind. (June) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher

"A beautifully paced, elegantly written book.... One of the best panoramic views of nature's extraordinary symmetry, subtlety and mystery currently on offer."--Sunday Times

"Writing in lucid, engaging prose illustrated with many ingenious diagrams, Atkins often succeeds brilliantly in conveying the deep conceptual foundations of scientific disciplines to readers lacking a mathematical background.... The elegant style, wide-ranging scope, and unusually high ratio of enlightening explanation to baffling abstruseness make this book one of the best of its kind."--PW Online

"The Nobel Prize for Literature has never been won by a scientist. It is high time it happened, and Peter Atkins would be my candidate. He is not a popularizer of science in the ordinary sense.... He is not afraid to lead us toward the far horizons of scientific understanding but, rather than oversimplify and trivialise, he uses his powerful mastery of the English language to open our eyes to the poetry of deep science.... Atkins's literate prose leaves us inspired, fulfilled, enriched, and properly alive."--Richard Dawkins, author of The Selfish Gene and Unweaving the Rainbow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780198609414
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 9/28/2004
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 793,875
  • Product dimensions: 7.70 (w) x 5.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Peter Atkins is Professor of Chemistry and Fellow of Lincoln College at Oxford University. He is the author of several world-famous chemistry textbooks. One reason why these continue to be leaders throughout the world after more than two decades is his remarkable gift for being able to explain things--especially challenging concepts--memorably and with great clarity. This gift has regularly been deployed in his books for the general reader (Richard Dawkins has described one of them, The Creation, as 'the most beautifully written popular science book ever'), but never to better effect than now, in Galileo's Finger.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: The Emergence of Understanding 1
1 Evolution: The Emergence of Complexity 5
2 DNA: The Rationalization of Biology 45
3 Energy: The Universalization of Accountancy 83
4 Entropy: The Spring of Change 109
5 Atoms: The Reduction of Matter 135
6 Symmetry: The Quantification of Beauty 163
7 Quanta: The Simplification of Understanding 201
8 Cosmology: The Globalization of Reality 237
9 Spacetime: The Arena of Action 275
10 Arithmetic: The Limits of Reason 315
Epilogue: The Future of Understanding 357
Further reading 365
Acknowledgements 369
Index 371
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 7, 2013

    Atkins is great

    I liked the book. However, Mr Atkins narrative is sometimes full of arrogance.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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