God's Equation: Einstein, Relativity, and the Expanding Universe

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During television's early days, a popular commercial featured a child asking, "Why's the sky blue, daddy?" The father assured the child the answer could be found in the encyclopedia the ad was selling. Today's scientists still gaze at the skies with childlike wonder. But the questions they ask are far from childlike: What does it mean when we say the universe is curved? Why is the cosmos expanding at a constantly accelerating rate? How are the forces affecting the stars and planets related to those affecting the ...
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During television's early days, a popular commercial featured a child asking, "Why's the sky blue, daddy?" The father assured the child the answer could be found in the encyclopedia the ad was selling. Today's scientists still gaze at the skies with childlike wonder. But the questions they ask are far from childlike: What does it mean when we say the universe is curved? Why is the cosmos expanding at a constantly accelerating rate? How are the forces affecting the stars and planets related to those affecting the tiniest sub-atomic particles within a single atom? In God's Equation, Amir Aczel explains how physicists, astronomers and cosmologists are trying to find the answers in Einstein's theories, non-Euclidean geometry and advanced mathematics. The story begins with Einstein's general theory of relativity, which proposed that the universe is curved, that gravity is not a force, as Newton believed, but a curved field created by the presence of mass, and that the presence of mass will make light bend. In 1919, studies of a total solar eclipse showed that starlight did, in fact, bend around the sun. The headlines that followed this discovery turned Einstein into the world's first "media star" and its most famous scientist since Newton. More importantly, it set the direction for most of the twentieth century's research into physics, astronomy and cosmology, and influenced everything from the development of nuclear energy to quantum theory and mathematics.

Einstein himself spent the rest of his life looking for a "unified field theory," literally a "theory of everything" that would explain both the very small (the world of sub-atomic particles and quantum theory) and the very large (the expanding universe). He called his search an attempt to understand "God's thoughts" when the cosmos was created. The equation in that theory would be the human approximation of "God's Equation." Einstein never did complete his unified field theory, but his "cosmological constant," a concept he invented and then discarded, may prove to be a crucial component. This fascinating book, however, is not only about ideas, but also the people pursuing them. Each "character" in this dramatic story, Einstein as well as the contemporary scientists who are building on his work, emerges as a vivid and complex human being. Featured too are photographs of these intriguing personalities, plus explanatory charts, diagrams and other graphics, including several mind-bending (and unexpectedly appropriate) pictures by the brilliant and popular M. C. Escher. All of this combines with Aczel's admirably clear, simple prose style to create a remarkably readable story, told with the compelling force of fiction. Despite the pull of gravity, God's Equation is a book you won't want to put down.

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Editorial Reviews

Discover Magazine
At a time when so many popular physics books avoid equations and fudge mathematical explanations, Aczel wants to delve deep into the mathematics. He believes-as Einstein did-it is in fact the underlying mathematics that makes the universe elegant.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
For decades, scientists have debated whether the universe will eventually collapse upon itself, will expand until it reaches an optimal size and remain steady, or will expand forever. To most everyone's surprise, studies of particular huge supernovae are providing evidence that the last possibility may be right and that billions of years from now the universe will be an unimaginably immense void of burned-out stars. The explanation for this may lie in the "cosmological constant," a part of Einstein's field equation for general relativity. Though Einstein described the constant as the greatest blunder of his career, many scientists now think that it could correctly represent some kind of "funny energy" pushing the universe apart. Aczel (Fermat's Last Theorem; Probability 1) contends that Einstein's equation for the cosmological constant is our best approximation of what he calls "God's equation": the ultimate summary of how the universe works. Though Aczel's analysis of Einstein's work requires familiarity with advanced mathematics, that analysis makes up only a minor portion of his book, and most readers will appreciate the author's inclusion of the great physicist's letters to astronomer Erwin Freundlich. Translated here for the first time, they give a glimpse of Einstein's ambition and of his occasional indifference toward collaborators who were no longer useful to him. Aczel's writing is marred by his proclivity to make hyperbolic statements ("Einstein became one of the greatest celebrities--possibly the greatest--the world has ever known"), and some of his historical observations are na ve. Those fascinated by Einstein will find much of interest here, but general readers hungry for information about recent developments in cosmology may want to consult more accessible authors, such as John Gribbin (The Case of the Missing Neutrinos). Figures not seen by PW. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
In this well-written book, Aczel Fermat's Last Theorem: Unlocking the Secret of an Ancient Mathematical Problem attempts to explain in lay terms the meaning and significance of Einstein's theory of relativity; to a large extent, he succeeds. He shows us how Einstein developed and modified the theory and how he interacted with others working in mathematics, physics, and astronomy. Aczel explains that Einstein proposed a mathematically elegant equation, based on physical, philosophical, and aesthetic considerations, whose solutions if found would describe the large-scale behavior of the universe. He then modified the equation by adding a cosmological constant, since his first solutions indicated that the universe must be expanding, and no physical evidence to that effect existed at the time. When it was later shown that the universe was indeed expanding, he removed the constant, calling it a mistake. Yet new evidence seems to show that even when he thought he was wrong, Einstein may have been right--the cosmological constant may be essential to our understanding of the universe. For public libraries.--Harold D. Shane, Baruch Coll., CUNY Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Aczel () explains for lay readers the latest theory and findings that the universe is not only expanding, but expanding constantly faster. Then in order to account for the phenomenon, he resurrects a theory Einstein used, with the help of a cosmological constant, to show that the universe was static in size. Einstein discarded it as a huge blunder in the 1930s when Hubble showed that the universe does in fact expand. Aczel also offers new insight on Einstein's ambition, professional relationships, and thought processes based on newly discovered letters. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
Kirkus Reviews
In 1912, Albert Einstein wrote down an equation that describes the structure of the universe. But even he didn't recognize its full meaning. Aczel (Probability 1, 1998, etc.) has made a career of explaining the frontiers of mathematics. Here he tackles Einstein's field equation of general relativity not only in the context of modern physics, but in the history of mathematics. When Einstein began to incorporate gravity into his theories, he realized that it must have certain effects on light. In particular, light leaving a massive object would be red-shifted; its frequency would become longer, as if the object were moving away. Space was curved, and that curvature could be described in terms of non-Euclidean geometry—built on alterations of Euclid's fifth postulate, which after trying unsuccessfully to prove for two millennia, mathematicians decided to treat as an arbitrary and unprovable assumption. The curvature of space and its effect on light made possible experimental verifications of relativity: for example, the positions of stars seen near the sun in an eclipse should differ from their positions when the sun was in another part of the sky. In 1919, a British expedition led by Arthur Eddington measured those star positions and proved Einstein's theories correct. Meanwhile, Einstein had been exploring the cosmological implications of his theory, in particular the question of whether the universe expands, contracts, or remains the same size. Here, for the first time, he did not believe his own calculations and felt it necessary to add a "cosmological constant" to his field equation—a fudge factor he later described as his greatest blunder when astronomers demonstratedthat the universe was in fact expanding. More recent theorists suspect that the cosmological constant was needed, after all—but until another Einstein comes along, the field equation remains the closest thing we have to a divine blueprint for the universe. While the actual math is heavy going, Aczel gives a very readable account of the science and the scientists involved.
From the Publisher
"[Einstein's] field equation remains the closest thing we have to a divine blueprint for the universe....Aczel gives a very readable account of the science and the scientists involved."
-- Kirkus Reviews

"There is something startling on just about every page."
-- San Francisco Chronicle

"It is a wonderful time to glance back over Einstein's path in developing the field equation...fortunately, we have a fabulous guide in Amir D. Aczel."
-- Discover

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641709845
  • Publisher: Avalon Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/22/1999
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.06 (w) x 8.32 (h) x 0.91 (d)

Meet the Author

Amir D. Aczel is an internationally known mathematician. He lives in Waltham, MA.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 Exploding Stars 1
Ch. 2 Early Einstein 13
Ch. 3 Prague, 1911 27
Ch. 4 Euclid's Riddle 43
Ch. 5 Grossmann's Notebooks 61
Ch. 6 The Crimean Expedition 71
Ch. 7 Riemann's Metric 91
Ch. 8 Berlin 105
Ch. 9 Principe Island 121
Ch. 10 The Joint Meeting 139
Ch. 11 Cosmological Considerations 149
Ch. 12 The Expansion of Space 167
Ch. 13 The Nature of Matter 181
Ch. 14 The Geometry of the Universe 189
Ch. 15 Batavia, Illinois, May 4, 1998 197
Ch. 16 God's Equation 207
References 221
Index 225
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 29, 2009


    In God's Equation, Amir D. Aczel presents us with the rare elegance of combining history with the future. A unique book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 7, 2003

    Its Wonferful!!!!!!!

    Its great!!! You have to read it. Absolutly mind splitting!!!! READ IT!!!!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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